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Actions Speak Louder: Book Discussion Series

DEI Book Discussion Series for library management team and administrative cabinet

On Differences

"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."  

"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."

“Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.”

Questions: Chapters 1, 2, 3

Part of what makes this book unique is the author's belief that "feeling bad" or "guilty" about the realities of bias and inequity can be counterproductive for some people and actually lead to resistance, avoidance, and anger. Thus the author focuses in Part I on providing a number of fun and non-threatening ways to get the reader started in recognizing, unpacking, and addressing biases. Our questions for this Unit will practice some of those methods. Are they useful, and what can we learn from them? Let's get started!


1. In Chapter 1, the author uses a "Dinner Table" example to help readers identify and understand their own privileges, using porcelain and thali as categories for us to consider.

Porcelain and Thali 

Porcelain Haviland plate - Actions speak louder exampleThali - metal plate - Actions Speak Louder example

  • As described in the chapter, this exercise is not to identify who among participants is more or less privileged than others, but to recognize first that we all likely hold privilege in some areas.
  • Second, and more importantly, is to acknowledge our privilege and reflect on how we can use it to make our environments more inclusive for others who lack those privileges.

Be sure to complete the Porcelain-Thali checklist chart on pages 9-14 before our session.

--> IN YOUR SMALL GROUP, discuss ONE of the following (A, B, or C) and be prepared to share a group summary with the larger group:

A. Choose a privilege that you and your group members have in common.

  • What is it, and how might you turn that Porcelain into a Thali to benefit others?

B. Choose a privilege that you (singular or plural) and your group members do NOT have in common. 

  • Those who HAVE that privilege, how aware were you of this privilege?
  • Those who DON'T have that privilege, what kind of Thali would be helpful for you? 
  • How can we work together to make changes to become more inclusive?

C. Before this exercise, were you already aware of your privilege areas?

  • Did anything surprise you?
  • Did you think of other areas to include? What were they?
  • Any ideas on Thali?

2. Chapter 2 presents a practical chart method for identifying and checking our own biases and learning to substitute positive thoughts for negative or judgmental biases. Learning theory shows we also tend to learn more when we write out by hand what we are trying to learn, so her approach makes sense.

We will use the book's method in our session, considering the concepts of "professionalism," "collegiality," and "excellent communication skills." What comes to mind when you think of someone who is unprofessional, or not collegial, or who lacks excellent communication skills?

  • Are these concepts common sense and neutral, and do we all know what we mean by these?
  • Who benefits, and who - if anyone -  is locked out from belonging? 

Be thinking of these questions in advance of our session and come prepared to share.


3. In Chapter 3, the author discusses the need to "build a bridge" between an organization's DEI resistance and DEI promotion, and posits both a Financial Case and a Moral Case as valid paths forward. In the Moral Case scenarios, the author asks us (on p. 59) to reflect on the following questions:

a. What has our organization promised?

b. How does DEI relate to that promise?

c. How can DEI help us fulfill that promise?

--> Consider your Unit / Department and/or the library / university as a whole. As the library begins its strategic planning, how can we best connect what we have promised with DEI? Discuss in your small group and be prepared to share your ideas/questions with the whole group.

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Image sources: Collectible Haviland porcelain plate: https://www.etsy.com/listing/537697545/antique-haviland-limoges-plate-old ; Thali: https://www.amazon.com/EastWest-Stainless-Steel-Thali-Plate/dp/B011SXUMH8