Diversity Forum Notes

featherOn Sunday, August 21, 2016, The White River Shambhala Center held a Diversity Forum, open to members and the general public, to discuss how the Center can be more inclusive. The questions posed were the following: What is diversity? What is diversity specifically for the Upper Valley area? Why is diversity good for everyone? How do we welcome difference? How do we mix difference with our unique Shambhala culture? What can we do next?

The forum was attended by three members: Eric Ballou, Bear Hollyday, and Dia Ballou. We shared our motivations for attending this forum and found that all three of us felt strongly about wanting more diversity in our lives and at the Center, but felt unsure how to magnetize or reach out to diverse people in this area.

We reflected that ethnic diversity is often tied to economic diversity – and that our Center has a generosity policy that makes it possible for anyone of any economic class to attend our programs. We discussed that probably the most ethnic diversity in the UV area is found at Dartmouth, but historically Dartmouth students have not been very interested in the Center.

We reflected that WRJ itself is economically diverse, yet we don’t often have people who live right in the neighborhood walk into the Center. We considered specifically inviting neighbors to a Learn to Meditate event, by making a flyer geared to neighbors and putting it on peoples’ doors. We have not traditionally been proselytizers, but we could see this as a way to meet neighbors and let them know they are welcome.

We imagined how it might feel for a person from a lower income level to walk into the Center. We considered that it might feel like a different culture. However, this space expresses Shambhala culture, which is available to all people. We agreed that kindness can overcome the “culture shock” someone from a lower income level might initially feel at the Center.

Another way to increase diversity may be to do some Learn to Meditate classes in other spaces – at public libraries or recreation centers, for example. This would certainly help with the physical accessibility issue. In the past there has been outreach to the Windsor Prison – is Stephen still doing this? Could we re-start or re-energize this outreach effort?

Some people with lower incomes find out about us through social workers’ referrals. Betsy will be contacting WISE to let them know we are available to give meditation instruction to their clients. Likewise we can let the VA, DHMC, mental health agencies, and so on know that we are available to give meditation instruction at no charge.

Regarding those with physical limitations, we recalled that some years ago, there was serious talk of purchasing the space we are in and installing a lift. It is not financially feasible for us to install a lift on a building that we do not own. We discussed that if we ever need to move, we should move to a ground–floor space. We wondered whether COVER might want to improve the value of their property by installing a lift. We questioned whether there is a law requiring access to public spaces.

Regarding diversity in age, we recalled that Jeffrey S and Eric B led a successful youth group for some years. It is not clear who could lead such a group now, as the youngest Center member is 37 years old.

Regarding LGBTQ people, we were not sure whether there are barriers to the Center. We proposed two ways to invite comments about this and any other diversity concerns or ideas: Dia will post a paper on the bulletin board soliciting concerns/ideas, and Dia will write an email as Director inviting people to write to her or Bear with concerns or ideas about diversity.

Dia noted that some prefer the term “inclusivity” now, rather than “diversity.” She also shared about a church in Windsor that has a very inviting rainbow flag hanging from its porch – could we hang both a Shambhala flag and a rainbow flag from our stairway? Dia will ask Raven and the Council about this. In the past, there have been questions about town rules for flag displays, but Dia noticed that COVER has been displaying a large flag for their store lately.

Eric recalled that a few years ago, we watched a series of video talks by various Acharyas on the topic of diversity in Shambhala. They were fairly short and some were very good. Eric agreed to search these out and propose to the Director of Practice and Education that we show them again at some point.

Finally, we asked whether it says something about our Center, that there were only three people in attendance at this diversity forum. We recognized some probable reasons why so few attended: there were events at the Center this Friday and Saturday; it is a hot summer Sunday afternoon; and/or possibly there is not a feeling of urgency about these issues among our membership.   We believe there is greater interest in these topics among Center members than was represented today, and we will continue to solicit ideas and initiate discussions about diversity and inculsivity at the Center.

If you would like to share a thought, please contact Dia at [email protected] or Bear at [email protected]