Thriving in This Time

(Six minute read)

Guest bloggers Dr. Janett Cordovés and Dr. Raja Bhattar created a web series called “Thriving in This Time”. Today, they’re here to tell us about the series and the #HappyNow.

“How to lead and thrive?” is the perfect place to begin this conversation and to understand how we came to Thriving in This Time, #HappyNow. Amid these unraveling, disrupting, polarizing, grieving, and difficult times it seemed necessary to forge a path forward that ensured our communities did more than survive and bare scares, but thrived, thus Thriving Leadership emerged. As is our Thriving in This Time series, a conversation, and a digital community, it is also our pedagogical inkling to begin this post with some insight into who we are and how we live in the #HappyNow. 

Raja G. Bhattar, they/them/theirs, Higher Education Leader, Consultant & Author  

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  ~ Howard Thurman

This quote from Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, a former dean of the chapel at Boston University and mentor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been a pillar of my personal and professional journey for over 15 years. I was introduced to Thurman and his writings by a dean and former colleague of Thurman’s at Boston University where I was a first-year seeking direction. While I had enjoyed taking part in the Common Ground program, an orientation program focused on diversity and inclusion, I was still trying to figure out my own role on campus. I was a first-generation student who had to fight my parents to attend the university of my choice and to explore who I am vs. who my family expected me to become. Being a college student during the 9/11 attacks has become a defining moment in my memory of college and also my own racial identity within this U.S. context. I remember feeling lost and confused as White people gave me glances of fears as I walked down Commonwealth Avenue and even more unease when I became aware of how I had internalized Islamophobia growing up in a conservative Hindu family.  

Understandably, college is difficult for everyone as we understand ourselves and the world around us. As a student, this quote gave me solace and inspired me to change my major (learning that not liking Chemistry is not good for pre-med majors) and also got me to figure out a way to spend my whole junior year abroad. Definitely not my parents’ plan for me. But I’m so grateful that Dr Thurman’s work entered my life when it was most needed and continues to inspire me. While this quote has been my email signature since then, only recently have I fully appreciated how this quote is shaping my life in this uncharted global socio-political moment today. 

Recently, in light of a global health crisis, the anti-Asian racism, disenfranchisement of immigrants, and blatant murdering of Black people, I’ve found that it’s easy to get stuck into a cycle of asking myself what can I really do to make a difference? What needs to be done to advance racial justice? What is my role in dismantling internalized anti-Blackness in myself? How can I be a transformational leader in this work? While my first instinct is to ask others I trust for advice and to go through various layers of insecurities and voices in my head, I have realized that there is no perfect answer for undoing four centuries of Anti-Blackness, racial trauma, and disenfranchisement that I have also been complicit with, consciously and unconsciously. What makes me come alive? For me, I am most alive when I am pushing for social change by working with organizational leaders, developing equity-minded processes and supporting students in embracing their own agency to cultivate a more inclusive world. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, I’m learning a new way to come alive: art. Never in my life did I imagine I would make art, let alone create a mindfulness coloring book. I just kept doing what brings me joy and it transformed me. Now this art book is inspiring others and having ripples of change in communities I will never know! 

Janett I. Cordoves, she/her/hers, Director of Higher Education Partnerships, Interfaith Youth Core 

As a vibrant and boisterous undergraduate at Montclair State University, I spent a great deal of time learning about and living out authentic, spiritual, organic, authoritarian, communal, and other leadership styles. I studied, lived out, and practiced leadership. Each organization I was involved in (including those I had formal roles in such as serving as an Orientation Leader, Residence Assistant, Chapter President of Lambda Theta Alpha, and Spiritual Leader for the Newman Center) required a variety of skill sets, some outlined in the paradigms listed above and others I had to discern and cultivate on my own. When I reflect upon my leadership style during those years and how I lead today, I have realized that leadership, at my foundation requires me to seek understanding; encompass the whole situation, person, and/or group; and to honestly communicate. To fully understand those that you lead and to effectively adapt one’s leadership style to meet the needs of your team and organization, you must gain an awareness and be knowledgeable about how individuals’ culture, religion, sexual orientation, social-economic status, and gender manifest in leadership. 

Although I don’t always get it perfect, which isn’t my agenda anyway, I am more aware of how I lead and what type of leadership the situation I am in requires. In our current times as we bear witness to a global pandemic, astronomical unemployment rates, global grief, digital relationships, racial injustices and the countless lives gone too soon, mental health issues, and police brutality, this time also requires a position of gratitude and strategically finding and sharing ways to thrive. 

This specific time brought Raja and me into a more pronounced and sacred friendship and we have collided around these exact things — gratitude and Thriving in This Time. 

Here are some previews of our videos:

Dr. Janett I. Cordovés (she/her/hers), Director of Higher Education Partnerships at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) equips and empowers campus staff and faculty to be interfaith leaders. Prior to joining the IFYC team, Janett worked in higher education for over a decade, elevating the importance of engaging worldview identity and creating religious and spiritual accommodations and policies to support students’ holistic development and retention and success efforts. Janett has a bachelor’s in applied mathematics, a master’s in higher education, and a doctorate in ethical leadership and became a Cluster Facilitator in 2016 and LeaderShape Facilitator in 2017. Her research interests include first-generation, #digitalfaith, leadership development, and spirituality. In her spare time, Janett travels to spend time with family and friends, volunteers with Beyond Younger and the Food Pantry, Catholic Charities, and at her place of worship City Church Chicago.

Dr. Raja Gopal Bhattar (pronouns: they/them/theirs) is a nationally-recognized higher education leader, advocate, consultant and author. Most recently, Dr. Bhattar served as the Assistant Provost and Executive Director of the Center for Identity + Inclusion at the University of Chicago, overseeing the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, LGBTQ Student Life and Student Support Services along with campus-wide climate and inclusion work. Previously, Raja has held positions at the University of California – Los Angeles, University of Redlands, University of Vermont, Champlain College and Semester at Sea (University of Virginia). They hold a PhD and Master of Arts degrees in Higher Education and Organizational Change from UCLA, a Master of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont and Bachelor’s in Psychology with a minor in Spanish Literature from Boston University.

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