Oh, my.

As I read in recent weeks some stories about the experiences that local high school students have had with diversity, equity and inclusion, it seemed like so much for them to handle.

Offensive statements. Nasty comments. Being put on the spot, or having your presence barely recognized.

Sure, there are some bright spots on the K-12 scene. They shine through in conversations and other associations among students of all races. They are evident when some teachers, administrators and other staff acknowledge and appreciate diversity.

But the bright spots don’t negate the less-than-positive realities that some students wrote about through our diversity, equity and inclusion essay contest, supported by the Education Writers Association.

I wish I could say to these students that some of the experiences they’ve endured or comments they’ve received is mostly just kids being kids. But some of the experiences have been the result of insensitive adults. And the odds are that these students may encounter various incidents into their adult years, including in the workplace.

One close friend has shared several times some of the slights she feels where she works. One employee regularly starts to look down at the floor when she sees my friend coming. When something like that happens once or twice, you might think it’s just coincidence. But every time? After noticing the pattern, my friend said she asked the female co-worker “Can I help you find something?”

Another friend has posted on Facebook about the challenges of being a racial minority in the workplace when offensive comments are made. Choosing when to respond, how to respond or whether to even respond can lead to fatigue. That’s on top of the normal workplace demands and challenges. And it’s a phenomenon that Pascal Losambe addressed in one of the monthly sessions he facilitated in Fort Wayne during the 2020-2021 program year for the local United Front diversity and cultural awareness initiative.

Overall, I’ve been fortunate in my career in newsrooms. My first role as a manager came at a young age – my middle to late 20s. Most of those in my department were not just non-minorities racially, but also older than me. Having management’s support is crucial – not because you’re a minority, but because you’re qualified.

But you don’t get through three decades in the workplace without some questionable occurrences.

On one occasion, I was reading information on a bulletin board while editors were in a conference room we called the “fishbowl” because its primary wall was glass. One or two phones in the newsroom were ringing. One editor in the meeting got up, stepped outside, and yelled at me to “Answer the phone.”

Now, there were other people in the newsroom who could have answered the phones. I was not far from the fishbowl, but that also put me farthest from any ringing phone. I was amazed at her audacity, particularly the elevated voice. My parents rarely – if ever – raised their voice at me when I was growing up, so that’s a no-go with me as an adult in the workplace.

I didn’t answer any phone in the newsroom that day. I did, however, make my way to that editor’s office when the meeting ended to address – and correct – her.

I’ve often encouraged one person close to me to avoid assuming too many things happen – or don’t – based on race. Some people are who they are, regardless of who they are dealing with. And it isn’t always about the work or co-workers, but possibly past hurts or personal difficulties they are dealing with that affects how they show up.

One key take away from United Front that I have mentioned before in this column is that we judge people on the impact we feel from what they said or did. In contrast, we want others to judge us – the times when we have slighted or perhaps offended – on our intent, which is usually “we didn’t mean to … .”

Many minorities hold to the fact that discrimination – or in today’s terms – the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion – isn’t always as blatant as it was in the ’60s and ’70s, even the ’80s. It’s more subtle.

You can’t always question every statement or action. Most everyone, including the youth who wrote essays, has probably heard the phrase “pick your battles.” Not that questions or observations have to lead to “battles” – if we exercise a bit of emotional intelligence.

But when you’re a minority, you’re often just left wondering, trying to imagine if the same thing said to you would have been said to a non-minority. And then you just keep listening and watching… for patterns that paint a picture.

Managing Editor

Managing Editor Lisa Green has more than 35 years of experience at newspapers in Illinois and Indiana. She has worked at The Journal Gazette since 2000, initially as business editor. She has a biweekly leadership column/blog called "Lead On."