Dr. Dena Samuels, a culturally inclusive mindful leadership coach, was the guest speaker for the second annual Inclusive Excellence Scholar Residency (IESR), sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on September 17. The goal of the IESR is to create opportunities for faculty and students to have conversations about diversity.
Samuels is an author, educator and coach with a background in cultural inclusion and mindfulness with decades of experience in the field. Dr. Samuels explored themes central to UD’s Marianist roots. Diversity and inclusion are increasingly becoming buzz words around campus.
In a recent blog post written by President Eric Spina, he communicates his commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion at UD. Not by accident, the freshman class of 2022 set new records for being the most diverse class the University has seen with 17 percent of incoming students identifying as underrepresented racial and ethnic populations.
Samuels’ passion is “to increase people’s ability to be culturally aware” both personally and professionally. Knowing one’s own biases is key in order to facilitate inclusion. Samuels states, “We’re so focused on the external, so checking in with your body and how you are reacting to certain situations actually gives you a grounding to interact with others.” This has implications for leadership and interacting with people across social differences.
The audience for Dr. Samuels presentation consisted of faculty, students and members of the public. Numerous education majors were in the audience eager to learn about how bias and mindfulness play a role in the classroom. Samuels explained that research shows when mindfulness is used as an alternative discipline method, negative behaviors decrease significantly.
As Samuels explained in her lecture, implicit bias is the unconscious thought process everyone goes through when evaluating others. However, power comes from recognizing one’s own biases and can lead to the ability to change and minimize them. Samuels highly recommends The Harvard University’s Project Implicit test as a tool to assess bias and, in turn, positively affect our ability to navigate a multicultural world.
In an interview with Dr. Samuels, she explained how intention setting is a more tangible way to be mindful in our daily lives. Telling ourselves to be more present or more joyful, for example, can have a powerful impact on mood, actions and interactions with others.
Responding versus reacting is another point Samuels tied in with intention setting. She suggested it is more useful to approach an interaction by responding with no preconceived notions about the individual. She refers to this as an “I don’t know” mentality as opposed to “I assume.”
Also in the interview, Samuels offered tips for students on mindful leadership. Samuels commented that listening and integrity are key components.
“Anyone can be a leader, all it takes is integrity.”
Samuels encouraged setting aside time for mindfulness practices to help alleviate stress and worry, which especially is relevant for busy college students. This does not necessarily have to be in the form of meditation. Mindfulness, as she defines it, is “present moment awareness.”
Meditation falls under the umbrella of the array of mindfulness practices. Conscious breathing and mindful eating are two other mindfulness practices. The best part about mindfulness is that it’s accessible to everyone at any time.
Last year’s speaker was Dr. Damon A. Williams, who gave a lecture titled “Innovating Diversity and Empowering Leaders: Renewing Hope through Inclusive Excellence.”
Dr. Dena Samuels’ website is http://denasamuels.com. Her most recent book is The Mindfulness Effect: An Unexpected Path to Healing, Connection, and Social Justice.