S1E5 Episode Notes | Building Access To Higher Education with ACCEPT
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
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People are most effective when they can influence their immediate sphere. This week’s guests, Marie Bigham and Steve Frappier focus on removing barriers in a field they've dedicated their lives to over the last two decades: post-secondary education. In 2016, they were part of a small group that launched ACCEPT (Admissions Community Cultivating Equity & Peace Today), a nonprofit organization that empowers college admissions professionals to center justice, equity, and anti-racism in their work and communities. This episode is chock-full of learnings on the hidden superpower of being multiracial, how to practice cultural humility, and how to build meaningful and active communities who advocate for equity and access.
ACCEPT: Admissions Community Cultivating Equity & Peace Today, is a nonprofit organization that empowers college admissions professionals who center justice, equity, and anti-racism in our work and communities. With 5300+ members since its founding in 2016, ACCEPT was honored by Facebook at the 2017 Facebook Community Summit, a gathering of 100 Facebook Groups that exemplify strong community engagement. In 2018, ACCEPT received the Excellence in Education Award from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, awarded to “those who use their prominence to advance equity and access in education”.
About Marie Bigham:
Marie Bigham is the founder and co-leader of ACCEPT. With over 20 years in the profession, Marie has served on the Board of Directors for the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC); as Vice Chair and Director of Communication for Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS); and on the Board of Directors of Texas Association of College Admissions Counseling (TACAC). Marie entered admissions at her alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis (Class of 1995), where she earned a BA in Political Science and Women’s Studies and a minor in Glassblowing. She served as Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Washington U, as Associate Director of College Counseling at Riverdale Country School (NY), and as Director of College Counseling at The Bishop’s School (CA), Greenhill School (TX), and Isidore Newman School (LA). Whenever possible, Marie enjoys the culture, food, and sounds of New Orleans with her husband, Colin Pettus, and their two Boston Terriers, Chelsea and Peeperton.
About Steve Frappier:
Steve Frappier is a school-based counselor who is starting his 20th year in the fields of student advising, college admissions, and competitive quiz bowl coaching. Steve grew up in Alabama and Florida in a multiracial (Taiwanese & American), multifaith (Buddhist & Christian) household and relies on his being a first-generation college attendee and a gay male in how we should all humbly assume the existence of hidden intersectionalities with students and with colleagues. Steve co-founded ACCEPT with long-time colleagues Marie Bigham and Brandi Smith because it was time for admissions community to do more, versus watch our profession assume that our hands were tied. Steve is also an advocate for gun sensibility, as a survivor of the mass shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale airport in January 2017 – when his MacBook and backpack absorbed one of the shooter's 15 bullets.
Watch his Tedx Talk "Fast Trains" here.
Follow him on the following social platforms:
Why Admissions as a vehicle for change?
Calling out officials who try to speak for you.
Allyship may not be enough. We should be accomplices in creating change.
Owning our mistakes and readily apologizing when we are called out by other communities.
Getting over your ego to be a good ally.
Racial equity can’t center white people. There need to be people of color not just at the table but running the table.
What voices are silenced because we have to protect something?
Cultural humility, fluency vs. competency.
The superpower of bridge-building multi-racial people.
Be my ally—ask better questions instead of “what are you?”
Come get your people—Take ownership and stand up to your own community.
What’s next with ACCEPT.
References & Links:
Like ACCEPT on Facebook
If you're in Admissions, join the ACCEPT private group.
Dr. Darnell Cole, Associate Professor of Education . Here is a link to the presentation Marie mentioned "Race & Identity: Why it Matters"
From the Atlantic: A Simple Way to Bring Down College-Application Costs
Full Episode S1E5 Transcript:
Steve Frappier (00:00)
We're a group that embraces allyship in advocacy, but we also want to say those terms may not be enough. Allyship can be passive, allyship could be buying a button. Allyship could be holding a premise in your heart but not acting upon it. And so there's something where allyship gets to be a self-defined and monitored in many instances. But what our profession is seeking, are accomplices.
Gaby Acosta: (00:32)
Hola, Hola! It's Gaby Acosta.
Jenelle Acosta: (00:36)
And me. Jenelle Acosta. We're high school sweethearts on a journey to be better allies.
Gaby Acosta: (00:42)
You're listening to the way we lead. We talk about inclusive leadership, allyship and advocacy with folks across identities, industries and experiences.
If you're new here, Welcome! You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the handle @thewaywelead.
Gaby Acosta: (00:57)
We're glad you're here. Let's jump in
Because we're talking to so many great people from all across the country. We have to meet online, which means that sound quality might not always be perfect.
Marie Bigham: (01:12)
My name is Marie Bigham. I live in New Orleans, Louisiana and I've had the privilege of living all over the United States. Um, my background is I worked for 20 plus years in college admissions before starting ACCEPT, which is a social justice group for professionals in the admissions college admissions space. Um, and this for professionals who seek to center antiracism, equity, and justice in our work and in our practice.
Steve Frappier: (01:43)
And I'm Steve Frappier. I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm a school counselor there. Grew up mostly in Montgomery, Alabama in Orlando, Florida. And I met Marie, uh, 19 years ago. Uh, when we worked in the same college admissions office at our Alma mater in St Louis.
Can you guys tell us a little bit more about what ACCEPT is? What's your mission? What does, what does your organization do?
Marie Bigham: (02:09)
Gosh, how do I even begin with, except we started almost well just a little bit over three years ago now. And the community is based in Facebook in the Facebook group that I started in the middle of the night and feeling despair about the world after a series of shootings in the summer of 2016. And it was one of those moments where I said, you know, so often when bad things happen in our world and in our culture, there's that group of friends that we text with to say, oh my gosh, this is terrible. What do I do? What do I do? And that energy dissipates. We get distracted by the next thing. And that night I said, well, we can't do that anymore. We actually have to do something.
Marie Bigham: (02:48)
People who work in college admissions in whatever role, we have a special responsibility fighting for justice. Because if we, if we really believe that education is the best path to socioeconomic opportunity and mobility than those of us who are the gatekeepers, we have more responsibility in fighting clear that pathway. So starting with this group kind of in the middle of the night in a fit of anger and rage and upset about feeling feudal about this world, and I saw it was going to be like, you know, 40 or 50 friends in this little corner of the Internet. Um, and it's grown to almost 5,400 people now in three years. And the last three years we've been building community and now we're in our second phase where operationalizing making this, this is my full time job now and hopefully we will have four of us on board by next year. And we're, we're really starting to change the conversation in college admissions and really center in anti-racism and injustice as the critical component of what we do.
Steve Frappier: (03:47)
And I didn't know if we've expanded the acronym but ACCEPT stands for admissions community cultivating equity and peace today. And um, there was just some deliberation about the T even. Uh, and there was initial a desire for the t to stand for together and immediately impatient with that saying, well together hasn't gotten us very far, you know. And so I wanted to add the urgency to the, the urgency of today versus together. And a lot of it is, uh, just stemming from the root of when we're in an era of thoughts and prayers, but we actually have an opportunity for action. That's what we were trying to instill across our profession. Just the signal that it's okay to ask for more of us individually and institutionally versus just saying, well, that's just the way things are. And to be able to bare influence on that without really even knowing what we were going to encounter or invite in or butt our heads against, but knowing that it was just time to start doing.
I think that that's so interesting to me. And one of the questions I have is, so I work for an Ed tech company. I work actually in for admissions through this company. And when you think about school shootings and what sort of was the catalyst moment for you watching these shootings happen and saying that, you know, you were talking about you are in a sort of a fit of rage and wanting to start this. I don't necessarily go to, let's, uh, let's use the admissions counselor community to really drive this conversation. Why admissions counselors rather than say administrators in the University system.
Marie Bigham: (05:40)
Sure. We'll certainly like this. You know, this is my community. The world of college admissions is my community. And I started, you know, like Steve said, we worked together at our alma matter and I started in this community in 1997, um, and just left a month ago. But it's why this, it's because it was our space and I think something that I've learned that's been an incredibly important lesson over the years. Is that people are most effective when they are influencing their immediate sphere, am I in the line I always talk about, but it's so true. I believe in my heart that gerrymandering is the worst possible thing for our democracy, but I have no idea how to fix it. But more than that, I'm not in a space that can, so what, what space do I occupy? Where do I have the most influence and how do we further justice and equity in that space? So that's why, to me, admissions made the most sense because it's our community. Then when you really drill into it and talk about the ideals that we discuss in about higher education, about that pathway, about admissions, that to me of all of the spheres of influence I might be in or where I could have a touch admissions makes the most sense. It's where we could change the culture quickly.
Steve Frappier: (06:57)
And I think to provide insight into the role of admissions officers and uh, and many of us, uh, work as school counselors as well or uh, and the, and there's some, some permeability back and forth between those work in school settings and those that may be university administrators that there's this passing of students through different milestones. And for those that are pursuing education beyond a high school realm, there's, um, a certain level of resources or lack of them in whichever high school they go to. Um, there's, uh, different types of knowledge that are, um, present or absent depending on a family's familiarity with navigating an American, uh, let's say four year college process. And then how, what expectations do those students have in it? Not just being prepared for the academic work, but entering the, the social climate of a particular college. And is that college prepared to take care of that individual student or a whole group of students based on their backgrounds and intersections. And what we've observed over time is that admissions can be great at marketing, can be great or bad at let's say need based financial aid, but then the campus climate can be, uh, completely, uh, negative space for students to feel like they belong and thrive and so on paper. And there's this sense of, Oh, you know, getting into the toughest part and we see time and again that, uh, perhaps in, enduring a four year living learning community where students feel that they have their authentic selves, um, able to learn is actually part of the story. Why students may not persist. Um, and then, and then who are the people within our profession. So we, we are active on behalf of all students as they navigate a complicated process for postsecondary education. But those of us that are within this profession, many offices are structured to where there may be an opportunity for lower level entry of, for non white males to be entering the university administrative process. And yet there's this unspoken ceiling regarding promotions or opportunities. Um, and, and, and that has certainly, uh, melted away slightly but, uh, by and large. Um, our profession is hurting because there are a lot of talented folks that are not, not really attended to. And then they move on to other things. And I think there's the risk of a lot of talent leaving this profession simply because the spaces, um, professionally, uh, are not as inclusive.
Marie Bigham: (09:55)
Well, and Steve, Steve and I attended a conference in January of this year and a fact came up that was not on our minds, certainly three years ago when we started ACCEPT, but I think bolsters white. Why admissions? Um, so we were at a conference and we heard Dr Darnell Cole, who is a professor at USC Rossier School of Education. And, um, he really pushed us as admissions professionals to think very intentionally about race and identity formation through the lens of the admissions process, how it's impacted. But when he shared with us, uh, the important fact that college campuses are currently the most popular place for white supremacists, and white terrorist groups to recruit new members, he turned to this room of 200 professionals and said, you are selecting the people who they want to recruit. What is your responsibility in that? Wow. And we didn't know that three years ago, but damn. And if that's not something that drives us daily.
Steve Frappier: (10:55)
And, uh, and so when we think about school counseling and college admissions and ACCEPT has become a space where we can post the anti-defamation league report, you know, on reported incidents of campus bias and hate incidents, you know, and that, and that's just quantity of reporting. But we, we certainly see an up tick, um, whether or not we're in a climate where things are reported more frequently. Um, but, but that's something to chew on. That's something, you know, and we can look at any number of different types of reports. It's not, it's not simply, um, it's not enough anymore. Okay, I'm going to, I'm going to help you file the paperwork. I'm gonna help you search for scholarships. It's also, let's do a scan on, let's say on the high school side, this student in front of me and their family. What are they valuing? What are they naming that they are afraid of or intimidated by or not and what may be in their blind spot where it would be negligent of us as counselors to not point that out as a consideration. Um, but in all of that work, depending on our own personal identities and intersections, who's taking care of us? If we are the only one of a particular background, uh, on a professional staff like say, or we feel at a loss of certain resources or we have to, um, there's just certain things that are preventing us from bringing our whole selves to our work environments. Yet the task is to be wholly present for the entire range of students and families that are in front of us. Um, and so ACCEPT is that we like to think of ourselves as that charging station where, um, those, um, on any side of the desk regarding college admissions, counseling, um, you're able, we're, you're able to come in and plug in through information, uh, as well as with peer support.
Gaby Acosta: (12:53)
So when I find incredibly unique about your group and what I found really surprising and exciting about the work that you're doing and accept is that you have found a way, like you said, to create change at your fingertips. That's something that we talk about a lot in our world and finding ways that are special and unique to what you feel like you can impact and then going for it. Um, and so one of the ways that you've been able to do that is by creating this super active Facebook group. And I could not believe how active you were talking about that Facebook has featured you as one of the most highly engaged and influential communities in 2017. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Like what was it that distinguished your community and how have you been able to tap into that community to drive action?
Steve Frappier: (13:51)
Unbeknownst to us, um, knowing that Facebook does look at everything, but we didn't know to what degree, um, Facebook had reached out and said, in looking at the analytics of who's engaged, um, over 90% of those that are members of your group, or at least weekly or active, at least on a weekly basis, we thought, okay, that's, that's nice. And they're like, but most groups, it's, we consider it, we consider it engaged at the 30% mark. Yeah. It's 30% of numbers are active on a weekly basis. That's a pretty active group. So for it to be at 90% in the scaling up of membership, we knew that it kind of our, our, our, our professionals were into this information, we're into, uh, you know, supporting one another. We had no idea of the depth and degree that this was a need, you know, um, across our, our, across our profession.
Speaker 1: (14:49)
And, and, and one of the first that comes to mind is that, um, ours was a space where there's been a rumbling on. Why is it that students have to pay for their test scores to be sent to all the colleges that they're applying to, which can amount to $14 for each sitting of each ACT. Um, so if a student has three ACT's to report, it's 42 bucks per college on top of the application fee itself. And, and in the climate where, you know, the average student applies to four, but some may need to apply to eight to 10 or 12 to try to see financial aid. It actually becomes, um, uh, a cost prohibitive, you know, for certain families to be able to, um, do something as simple as pay to send test scores. And so for colleges to then say, well, we tried you enroll a diverse class, but they just weren't, they just weren't in the applicant pool. We you were trying, uh, as, except to really point out to them removing a barrier as simple as a student can send you a screenshot of their scores that you can later verify if they enroll, could actually build that pipeline, uh, versus doing the normal thing of saying, Eh, and we hear this in interview processes as well, right? You know, oh, well they just weren't in our applicant pool. We tried and, and ACCEPT was a space where we, we were able to, um, accelerate, um, and amplify some of those conversations on cost-prohibitive, uh, test scores sending.
Speaker 5: (16:26)
I love that you took something that you were saying something as simple as one single monetary barrier that could prevent the entire audience, which most institutions often tout their diversity numbers, right? That's something that they want more of and want to promote getting more diverse students in their campuses. And so it's almost counterproductive for them to have had this policy and you're pointing out for the first time. We actually think that if you get rid of this small application fee from the front end and allow them to confirm their test scores on the back end, once they're accepted, it will eliminate the single barrier. I think that's phenomenal. That's such a simple step to take that you have been able to see that no one else may be able to see because you're in it every single day. Are there other examples of, of that type of action that your community has been able to take?
Marie Bigham: (17:28)
For sure. I think, I think one of the things that has given us opportunity to this is there is that craving for space, right? Just to have these conversations and by building out, ACCEPT that we've become that space. But I think back to march for our lives is that only 2018? When the Parkland shootings occurred and the students around the nation said, we want to march, we want to show support, we want to protest, we want to rise up. And all of these school's superintendents out of nowhere started to push back on the students saying, um, if you do that, we will suspend you. If you protest and leave school, we will suspend you. And if we suspend you, you're going to have to take that and put that on your college applications and colleges, they don't like that. So if you, you protest might keep you out of college. And that was one of those moments where I'm so grateful that ACCEPT was around because there was a collective space for the profession. Your, I'd be like, oh that is not okay. You will not speak for us in this way. And the members just with a couple of posts saying, what can we do? What can we do? Lead to, you know, high level deans of admissions, vice president of enrollment, posting public social media, post Twitter, insta, Facebook, emails to their applicants, whatever, saying we support the protesters. We support the students who have to stand for themselves. Um, we will not hold this against you in the admissions process. And these other people don't get to say that for us. That was a space where it was somewhat outside of the Admissions specific realm that someone else was using us in our process to weaponize against students who were doing the right thing. And so that was not quite the same as, hey, we're going to do it. We can't remove the fees that could keep a student from applying. But we were able to say, standing up for yourself is something we value. We did get appropriate push back. Not going to lie. This is important. We can appropriate pushback from black organizations and black media. They were like, that's nice. Where were you when our kids walked out for black lives matter marches? And my admittedly defensive posture during reaction at the time is, oops, we weren't here and true, but that's not the right answer. And our answer instead was, you're right, we need to support all of our students who are standing up for themselves and all the ways they can. And so we've really, that was a great learning moment for us, but it was a great opportunity too for like the community in the profession to stand up for students and to say, you don't get to use us in our process. And that way, in fact, we're going to do hide the opposite. That that was really proud of that kind of activist moment within our community too.
Speaker 5: (20:24)
Yeah. That's something that I think a lot of people struggle with is when they're in your instance, when they get feedback from a community that doesn't feel like you were being an ally to them in the same way that you were to another [inaudible], you know, you, you owned that. And that's something that we've been talking a lot about. Um, is acknowledging and even if it hurts and instead of wanting to react and say, no, what are you talking about? I would never, I'm an ally. I am here to support you too! Acknowledging that and then saying, you know what, you're right. We need to, we need to be better.
Steve Frappier: (21:05)
If I can speak to that nuance too because the, and what I've loved so far in, in listening to the, the, the first podcast that you've put out is exploring this concept of allyship. And we're a group that embraces allyship and advocacy, but we're also ones to say those terms may not be enough. Um, allyship can be passive. Allyship could be buying a button. You know, allyship could be holding a premise in your heart, but not acting upon it. Uh, and so there's something where allyship gets to be a self-defined and monitored, uh, in many instances. Um, but what our profession is seeking are accomplices, um, and to really take it to another level. An accomplice in this work means whether or not I have the language, whether or not, um, I'm, I am fluent or as competent. I see in, I see you, whether it's a professional, a colleague or a student and saying, I, I am going to act to make this better. Not just believe it. In my heart as an ally or speak about it as a philosopher advocate, but really go to that next level of doing, um, and really putting, sticking my neck out and, and willing to perhaps take a fall, um, by sharing in the stance and by speaking, um, uh, on your behalf or alongside you. And, and I think that's something where, um, two people looking at each other can say I'm an ally and yet they still may not be able to get any work done. There's something about the humility required in calling for accomplices, um, and then, and then, okay, pause and unpack that in order for us to really do that work, how much more do we need to get to know about one another before we can get into it.
Marie Bigham: (23:17)
I would say the thing that I have personally taken away from except is a, I've learned how to apologize a lot better, a lot faster with that defensiveness and with far more humility. Okay. And that's a tough one as a leader to learn. It's a tough one. Who for someone who claims to have enough wherewithal to be able to start and lead something like this. For, for me, my biggest gift from this group is learning how to acknowledge when I step in it because I stepped in it just as much as anyone else.
Gaby Acosta: (23:58)
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I think part of the process and becoming an ally is getting over your ego, right? And your ego is the one that tells you that I need to defend myself in this moment because I need to sort of preserve myself and my status rather than looking outward and being able to see it from a different perspective. And in, in my own role, I have certainly stepped in and done certain things that in hindsight made a lot of sense why the communities that I hurt were hurt. And being able to come back and own up for the fact that I made a mistake and wondering how we can grow from that. I also really love, you know, talking about where you're wrong. Um, Steve, I love you talking about how some of the idea around being an ally is knowing that you're going to make mistakes but still trying to power through and if you're not willing to power through, then what change are you going to make? So I think, I think that leads me into, you know, you have done such a wonderful thing with this community that you've built and being able to make real actionable change that the community has been able to do. What tips would you recommend to our listeners who want to have a similar impact in whether it be, you know, similar to what you're doing in higher education or other organizations and trying to make them more accessible and inclusive for underrepresented folks?
Marie Bigham: (25:59)
Oh, what a great question. Yeah. Gosh.
Steve Frappier: (26:03)
I do think one of the important aspects is, is just getting together and agreeing upon what you're really trying to get at, even if it's lofty and then determine what the norms are. An d a lot of this is perhaps some of the basics in advising and working with inclusive spaces, but then holding ourselves accountable as a leadership team to that, you know, that we should, we should always speak from the, I, you know, with I statements not, you know, and to teach others, you know, the moment you start using you, you know, then walls go up. There also needs to be, um, just a recommendation for articles that or whatever ongoing learning can take place. Enforcing that as an aspect of your group. There's always another, uh, set of stories, another set of, um, and, and sometimes once we think we've done all the reading, we've created a space where here's an intersection, a set of intersecting identities that has never popped up before. And it's a beautiful, um, uh, brutiful, we even say, um, set of narratives and, and a lot of that is truly getting to know one another on an individual basis as much as possible and seeking. Okay. What brought you here and being ever curious, what brought you here? What keeps you here? For me, I was so I have been so passionate about the college process. Being a first generation college attendee. My mom is a Taiwanese immigrant, um, and married my dad during the Vietnam War. Um, and when he was stationed over in Taiwan and she was, she was schooled through the sixth grade and still can't read or write English, um, despite being in, in American culture since the mid sixties. And so, uh, but, but I pass, I pass as Caucasian. Um, and in most instances, um, and, and I'm gay as well, a Gay Taiwanese American who grew up in the south. And, and so I have come to terms for the longest time that I'm not gonna run into people like me, um, from my three primary identifiers of gender and race and sexuality, I've met fewer than 10 people in my life who shared those, that combination. Um, I'm used to walking into a space where I'm not gonna run into folks that have had my, um, my life experiences. But I'm also able to convert that into being able to be curious about others, uh, and, and to try to seek understanding versus feeling competitive or feeling that I've been deprived of something. I could have chosen that. But I, I've learned that, um, you're not gonna get very far by holding onto that. And so I, I'm trying to encourage others to tap into that ability to convert where you, where you're constantly the only one. But for me, I have the privilege of passing, uh, and, and so how to then be ever mindful of that in, in bringing other stories forward.
Marie Bigham: (29:32)
I think for me it's if someone thinks about and want to stepped into this space and work on equity work and justice, um, and anti racism, whether on social media, in real life, how I really want to approach it regardless of of, of the space. I think two things really come to my mind to make it as, to lay a foundation for it to be as successful ventures. First is make sure that the team of voices leading it is diverse and that especially in racial equity, can't center white people, um, that, that there needs to be people of color, not just at the table but running the table. And I think Steve and brandy are on fire, one of the three co leaders. So I'm seeing Steve, Steven, brandy and I have been, I hope, extremely intentional about looking around and saying, what voices aren't here? But more so than that, what voices are silenced because we feel, because we have to protect something. Right? And so I think that's the first thing is making sure that there is many voices and experiences around the table and not focusing or not centering a majority experience particularly for doing racial equity work. And second is a concept that we learned at SMU about a year ago when um, when we did a program there and when ACCEPT did a program working with SMU. And that's idea of approaching this work with cultural humility. That we all talk about cultural competency, cultural competency training. And then if you're further down the line, it's know I have cultural fluency. We learned about the concept of cultural humility and that's something I've tried very hard to apply in everything I do that cultural humility flattens the hierarchy does not place the burden of teaching on the marginalized person doesn't center the white person as a as the arbiter of I've hit a check mark, which is competency or I've learned all there is to know and I know as much as you which is fluency but rather cultural humility. Stepping back and saying, let's, I want to hear your story and I will accept and hear your criticism without defensiveness and my goal is to learn and to be better every day. Those two things I think have helped make us successful in this work.
Gaby Acosta: (31:58)
It's interesting. Something that just sparked inside of me from both of you is from hearing both of you share your part of your story is that I am also mixed. I'm a mixed Latina, also white. A white mother and I was thinking about this really recently. I actually think that because of being and embodying intersectional identities, right, like it mixed race Latina who is also a LGBTQ community member, it has made me from such a young age have an open mindedness that other folks just aren't forced to have. And like you were saying, Steve, I've been able to pass most of my life. I as soon as I moved to the U.S. I remember like practicing my English because I wanted to make, I would look and open up magazines and I would practice to myself and record myself in my bedroom reading in English until I could sound like I was from here. And once I felt like I could sound like I was, uh, an American born girl, I, it was so much easier for me to pass as if like, no, no, I'm not an other in any other way. Right? Like I could just pretend, which gives me the privilege of getting access to the same opportunities that other people who are white and nationally born in the U.S. get. Um, that being said, I think one of the most interesting things that I've experienced growing up is that once I got to college, one of the communities I actually found was most active and most vocal in racial justice was a community that we started called multiethnic, interracial Smith College (MISC) . That was all about mixed race identities coming together to talk about how power, privilege and identity play into everyday life and just thought it was really interesting that a lot of these folks who are forced to think about it because of their identity, they, they are the ones who are, who can be bridge builders in many ways because they can empathize and feel their experience from multiple perspectives.
Marie Bigham: (34:19)
I'm high fiving you as another mixed race person. I am half white, half Vietnamese, like Steve said, has a privilege of passing. Although I don't think I do, but I know certainly when I was younger I would make efforts in the way that you did with your accent. I made efforts in my appearance and say like distancing myself. And even to this day, I'm sad that I don't have a lot of personal connection to my mother's culture because that was a specific choice I made as a way to survive. You know, that proximity to lightness as proximity to safety, but I think even in a more core away from me, it was proximity to my father and his family. But you know, one of those icebreakers, what's your super power? For like the last five, six years I was saying my superpowers that I'm multiracial, I can exist in multiple spaces at once.
Gaby Acosta: (35:13)
Yes. Snaps for that. I love that.
Marie Bigham: (35:16)
And some of the most passionate and effective organizers and activists I know are multiracial people. And I think it's because we have this intense and never ending awareness of what it is to have privilege and what it is to not.
Marie Bigham: (35:37)
Steve Frappier: (35:38)
And I'll, I'll even go a step further and saying no. A willingness to build bridges even though either culture may not even embrace you. That I, that I can choose or someone of a multiracial background can embrace each side or multiple sides if there's, um, uh, a deeper next year, um, and yet may or may not have any of the component cultures looking back at them and say, um, we're counting you as one of us. Um, even the willingness to, um, still declare that, um, I have found to be a source of a source of strength, um, uh, personally and also in, in watching others navigate, uh, their, their world in spaces.
Marie Bigham: (36:36)
I think that's so cool. Your college had that, Smith had an affinity group for a mix for multiracial people and it's really amazing.
Gaby Acosta: (36:44)
Yeah, it was really bad ass and it had been inactive for a few years. And then when I was a junior a friend of mine, her name is Kendra she and I started having these conversations, just one on one and she identified as hapa. So half. We were talking a lot about these topics and then we discovered through the archives that it had existed at one point, and we reactivated this organization to be able to facilitate conversations around this in a more formal capacity. And it was really probably one of the safest places where we could really dig into our identity, especially because both of us, I think connected on this idea of being the other, no matter which community we sat with, we always felt like we didn't belong. Right? Like when I'm here, I'm not, I'm not white enough. When I'm there, I'm not Salvadoran enough. Right. And so always feeling like I'm not from here, I'm not from there. And navigating all these different spaces, but being able to be a translator, both of culture and experience and language and navigating how we can empower ourselves to then lift other people up through that ability to see through that Lens.
Steve Frappier: (37:57)
Yeah. And, and, and hearing that too, that, you know, uh, one of the powerful things about ACCEPT is that at almost every conference, uh, that we have professionally as counselors and college admissions professionals, we try to host what are called meetups. And then folks that have been members of the groups get to see each other in person for the first time. You know, folks that you've admired. Um, and, or, or it's also as a place where folks say, Hey, come to this meeting and they've never been a member before. And they jumped right into it. And, and that's added another dimension that it doesn't have to be an exclusively online space for reading and engagement, but to be able to amplify it with the in-person, the social aspect of it, but also the challenge. Now, that I see you in person and, and see the sparks flying off of you, you know, um, and how passionate you are about this. I'm going to take that with me and try to do better in my community.
So first off, I want to, I'm sitting here as the w the one person who is white and there's not share a different ethnicity or race. I'm like, I thank you for your vulnerability and being able to talk about your perspective. Um, obviously Gaby and I have been together for 13 years, so I've been able to really hear her challenges of living as, as a mixed Latina and what that has meant for her. And I've leaned a lot about it, but it's rare for me to hear people so openly talk about their experience as well. And I think your vulnerability is a lot of what we're really hoping to get out of this podcast in the first place. So it's just first off, thank you so much. And I think the, the other side of this is I'm finding myself in a vulnerable space as well. Listening to you sort of wondering of all of you who identify as mixed in in one way or another, how can I be an ally to you? Or in general, what does allyship to you mean?
Marie Bigham: (39:56)
That's a great question. It's a big question.
Steve Frappier: (40:00)
There's still adults that asked us. So I, I, you know, I'm, I'm not going to say for you specifically, but it's interesting the number of adults that will pause and, and hear you know, something in my voice or like, you know, how I look and then they'll just go, what are you? You know, and, and, and there's an I and, and we all know where that comes from. And that's just the way to get to it. But it's, it's a, it's a crappy question, you know? It's like that's something you ask a dog owner. Oh, well what is that? You know, what is it, you know, like, describe, describe your, your mut's, you know, composition, you know, um, and, and really just be inquisitive. you know? Where'd you grow up, you know, where's your family from? Um, versus the, what are you as if, as if it can be put into three or four easy compartments, compartments for the person who asked the question. You know, cause there's so many ways that someone, uh, if you're talking to someone who is in tune with their intersections, well, you know, what do you really want to hear? What are you ready for? You know? Um, so the, the cultural humility part, think about how our language is actually, um, hindering relationships because we operate in all these binaries. And what are you [inaudible] for me? Is that it immediately I'm leaning out, but there's a chance for redemption.
Marie Bigham: (41:39)
It's such a great question to some extent, actually, like literally in the thick of this right now as, um, I had posted something fairly vulnerable at, on pantsuit nation today and I'm getting some pushback because I've been pushing back and what I'm seeing people play out there is good allyship is stepping in. Or as we say with some snark, come get your people. Hmm. Come get your people. Um, for me that means if I, if I'm in a space where I, I'm in the Asian community and people are talking about affirmative action in the negative. Or any number of things. Like that's my community. That's where I'm given privilege in the past, just by my appearance and my worth. And in some spaces, even with white people, especially like with my white family. So I learned how to be a good ally in these conversations. Like come get your people when, when these conversations are happening, when someone who falls into your affinity community who is going to automatically give you privilege and additional space because of your identity, um, when they're doing something, come for them. Because when we do, as someone not in that community or as people of color, the pushback is really mighty. But when someone they can identify, corrects gently or however it comes, it comes at that that's received so differently. And so I think one of the first steps in good allyship is to really like be knowledgeable of that and to, and to take that ownership. I have to come get my own.
Gaby Acosta: (43:21)
I think that's a brilliant place to close. Um, thank you so much for being here. I want to give you guys one more chance in this last couple of minutes to talk to us a little bit about what you guys are up to right now. I know you're going through a big life change and taking on a big initiative. So tell us more about that. Tell our listeners what you're, what you're doing and how we can support you. Uh, thanks. So we have a great website. It's
Marie Bigham: (43:50)
kind of starting a new but as a wonderful space for our information. For those of you not who, who don't work in the college admissions space and that website is acceptgroup.org. Um, in the next couple of weeks we're gonna launch a couple of really big initiatives with the one that we're incredibly excited about that we hope your listeners, um, join us for and participate in is going to be a year long project called "radically re-imagined admissions", where along with the Rise Center from Colorado State, we're going to have online conversations in person meetups, a hackathon and policy papers where we're going to get them out hopefully to impact the election. But with all of the myriad of controversies going on in College Admissions, we thought this would be a really good time for us to step back and say, hey, if we could rebuild this whole crazy thing and focused on the values that we, that we believe are important and what might this process look like for the student, for the institution, for any of the people around the table who help make that happen, how might we find greater equity and justice if we just strip this whole thing down and rebuilt it? So that's something that we want folks of, of all spaces to jump in, um, and to get involved with. And you'll be able to find more information on our website and mid August about that. Um,
Gaby Acosta: (45:19)
And how can folks who aren't in admissions support ACCEPT?
Marie Bigham: (45:23)
Well, you know, as soon as we finish our 501c3 process, which is really going to happen any minute now, we can start to get, if we would love your donation, because what has been kind of a free group that we've run online, um, we're not operationalizing and it's, it's changing form pretty rapidly. So we could always use any financial help if folks want to collaborate from other a social justice organizations or or community organizations. We're always looking for folks with whom to collaborate and just share exciting ideas and initiatives. And I think the biggest way somebody can support except is to support an antiracist philosophy and everything they do.
Gaby Acosta: (46:05)
That's phenomenal. Thank you so much for all of this. I want to give a huge shout out to the except community and for all the amazing action you're all taking every day to make higher education more accessible to all and we are just truly inspired by everything that you've done. So thank you for joining us for a short bit of your time today and really sharing your story with us. We really appreciate it.
Marie Bigham: (46:32)
Thank you. Thank you for highlighting leaders of color and exciting ways of looking at leadership. I mean all of us need to amplify each other, so thank you for your work.
Yeah, absolutely. And I have to say, I just put it out there before we officially end is I think you guys are awesome. I love just truly what you're doing. And the way that you speak about it and how much passion comes from it and it, it really shows that all of the work that you have done is really because of that passion that comes from it. The fact that your community is so active really stems from that. So that's amazing. And thank you so much for sharing your time. It's been really impactful for me listening to you talk about what you're doing, especially in a space that's similar to what I'm doing. So thank you so much.
Marie Bigham: (47:16)
Steve Frappier: (47:17)
Thank you both. We're so glad that we found and connected with you of from a a fellow ACCEPT member of, as you all were announcing the launch of this podcast and I'm, I am, uh, I am a happy follower of it already. I just wish you all so much success with it and looking forward to the stories that you're going to accumulate as a, as we, as we grow together.
Gaby Acosta: (47:44)
Yeah, it's an exciting process. I'm finding all these beautiful little niches on the Internet creating change in their own, their own unique ways and it's going to be a phenomenal journey. Getting to learn about all these different people, people doing what they are passionate about and creating change in their own ways.
Gaby Acosta: (48:04)
What did you think?
so A) I love them as human beings. Yeah. They're just wonderful and glowing and Steve talks so passionately about everything that he does and I love, uh, I love the thoughtfulness of Marie and how much talking about how much work that she's put in into making sure that she is, she is thoughtful of other communities. I thought the comment about, you know, black lives matter, coming back and saying, where were you when we needed you? And her being able to sit there and maybe she had an initial response, but be able to come back and say, you know what? You're right. I'm wrong. I think that that's so huge and important and to be able to do it in a space that's so visible too. And to be an example of what that looks like is so key to just creating that larger chain reaction of other people being able to do that too and get over their own ego.
Gaby Acosta: (49:08)
Yeah. To me that's a huge inspiration. And an example of how I want to be able to navigate that stuff when inevitably we will be caught at called out for not doing something in a certain way and I want to practice taking that in. And then like, I think the words she used were so wonderful. It was learning to apologize with humility. Yeah. That's so great.
Um, I want to add into my vocabulary, cultural humility. It gives me a word to describe what I've been trying to explain for myself for so long is it's not just understanding and getting closer to the cultural fluency that she was talking about. It's the being able to say, okay, I messed up. Or okay, I don't know. Or okay, I'm willing to learn more, or I know I need to educate myself. Right. It's, it's everything that comes with being an ally, that it's not just knowing that it exists, but trying to help be a part of the, the greater part of this. And educating yourself and educating others.
Gaby Acosta: (50:24)
Yeah. They both said something else that I was like, oh my God, that's so beautiful. It was like when you do this kind of work, you need to include team leaders who are also people of color or marginalized groups and not only give them a seat at the table but let them run the table. Yes, and I thought that was so well said. And I think this is an example of how, um, in general all leadership, any leader can do this to empower others who are learning in any way, shape, or form. But specifically those who don't typically get an even a seat at the table is to give them a chance and a safe space to run the table. I think that is so cool. That idea. I want to practice that. I'm not quite sure exactly how yet, but I want to do it. And it also at the same time, it gave me a feeling.
Let's talk about feels.
Gaby Acosta: (51:23)
My feeling was when we were thinking about starting this podcast and also when I was thinking about shifting my career into diversity and inclusion, one of my very initial reactions, tweaks, fears was that because I can pass as a multiethnic, multiracial person that I felt like I didn't have the right to do this and I, I literally checked in with my people. Like I checked in with all of my peer mentors and mentors of color to ask them specifically, am I crazy for doing this? Is this a good idea? Am I the right person to be doing this? And I went to several of my friends, including Cedric, who really encouraged me to start this podcast. He literally looked at me, he was like, yeah girl, like why are you waiting for somebody else to give you permission? You have the tools and the right lens and you're coming at it from the right perspective, asking questions of other people, letting them guide you. So go be our ally. Like go take, go take this and the knowledge that you have and do it. And I don't think I would have been comfortable doing something like this without that encouragement from the community that I want to bring with me and I want to support and, and be an ally to. Cause otherwise I felt like I was just like being a white girl, you know, like, like somebody with privilege coming in and being like, I'm just going to help people who need it. And I feel like that's always inherently a huge issues like that savior martyr complex that a lot of people have. And I just didn't want to buy into that. So I just thought on the piece that ties us all back in is that I was really worried that we were going to start this podcast as a queer couple and me being a mixed Latina who can pass as white and come at it with a lens that was inappropriate because we're not bringing someone to run the table who is more marginalized than we are. However, the way that I'm thinking about it right now is that that's why we have our guests on, right? Like the whole point to me is to have guests on who look and experience the world differently than we do so that they can share with us their experience. So if it had just been us talking about diversity and inclusion as if like we knew all the answers, I think that would have been really problematic. But because we are bringing people in, we are learning in the process and so it makes me feel a little bit better that, you know, I at least that's a vulnerability that I just like suddenly like I felt it.
Yeah. I think, and I mean the other side of this for me is I am a white girl. Like I'm not mixed. I'm gay, but I'm not mixed. Right. And doing this has been, how do I explain this? So I look at you and I say, you at least have some authority to talk on this because you are Latina, you are marginalized. Or at least you know your community is marginalized. You at least...You can pass, right? So that puts you in a very complex position within yourself and internally that you've been working through. But you still are a Latina. I am not. And so I have been feeling very similar to you that I really want to make sure that I'm not co-opting this space and that I'm not speaking out of turn. But also I think I said it during the last bit talking about allyship and that I do feel vulnerable asking them and realizing, great, I'm now the one white like white person in the room with the set of mixed people talking about their experiences that I cannot necessarily identify with. I struggle with when do I speak up and when do I sit back and just listen and make sure that I'm listening and understanding and I'm not stepping into much with my own, uh, not my own opinion, but I guess my own perspective on the situation because that's not the, that's not the point. I want to hear from their perspective and understand what we can get out of that and take and move forward with us. And so I absolutely can relate to this feeling that you're having, at least from my perspective of I am the white girl in the room and how do I make sure that I am showing that I'm not an expert and I want to be the one learning and that I'm not overtaking the conversation?
Gaby Acosta: (56:08)
Yeah. Well the very fact to me that you're even thinking about these things, that means that you're being thoughtful in your responses and in your actions. So I just, I really appreciate that about you in general in our lives and in our relationship and our friendships. So, you know, I, I'm biased in this situation, obviously being your wife, but I just think that that's really unique and special about you, that you're very introspective in every conversation that you have and every action that you take almost to a fault. However, like it leads to a lot of anxiety and like frustration. However, I think like if we could find a middle ground and everyone could do that more and be more thoughtful and intentional in the way that they're addressing conversations. Asking better questions like Steve Sad, right? Like, instead of asking what are you, you know, like if we could just be more intentional about saying like, oh, that makes you feel like an object again, that makes you feel like something not human. So let me ask better questions and say, hey, tell me more about your background. Like what, where are, where's your family from? How do you identify, you know, the, that kind of thing. Um, instead of saying like, what, what are you, you like weird creature that looks ambiguous. This is a cool conversation.
Yeah, I like it. They want to figure out how we can support them more because they are, they're really cool. I love the fact that they said they wanted to start in their own community. That and the, the, the idea that it's, I don't have to go out and create a brand new community to try to make change. I can start in the community that I already exist and just start these conversations in the first place. So in their world, that's how we can impact making the admissions process more inclusive. The GRE is a barrier. So how, how can we work around this as a barrier for people who might be marginalized in a socioeconomic status that can't afford it? It's just looking at where am I today and what can I do better in the community that I'm in today. I love them. I love them so much.
Gaby Acosta: (58:20)
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