Staff Spotlight

Safe space: a designated place where people go to feel protected from offensive ideas and speech. Weir takes this idea further.

Mark Weir knows exactly when he became aware of race. As the child of a multi-racial couple, he saw his mother's white parents proudly display photos of their white grandchildren on the kitchen refrigerator. Nine-year-old Mark noticed that photos of him and his two siblings weren't among them. He hunted everywhere and finally found them, hidden on a bookshelf in the last room of the house.

Ever since that moment, Mark has dedicated his life to saving people from that feeling, by reaching into hearts and minds and showing people that they already have the tools for feeling empathy toward those who may be viewed as different. But they might need a little help finding them.

"If you come from anger, your opinion is not going to be well received. You can't beat people over the head all the time." Mark says. "The best way to get people to change is to help them come up with their own ideas on how to take a different approach to things."

Mark WeirAs the Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion, Mark leads the university's diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and works closely with, as he says, "everyone." It was this opportunity to affect the whole population, from students to the highest administrative levels, that brought Mark to Carlow University, where he has also enrolled in the MBA program. He has an office, but he's hardly ever there. His duties take him all over campus, and one of his specialties is training.

If you are lucky enough to attend a Mark Weir training session, it's not much different from sitting with Mark Weir in his office. As a speaker he's naturally dynamic and animated, but he also has a degree in elementary and special education. He uses stories from his life to illustrate the points he makes. He's not afraid to show his vulnerability, and encourages that in others.

"This isn't just a safe space," he says, to a group of Carlow employees, faculty and students in one of his professional development workshops about microaggressions, seemingly insignificant behaviors or remarks that have the potential to further marginalize minority groups."This is a brave space."

Mark later elaborated: "Language is important and may contribute to misconceptions of the goals involved in creating inclusive environments. In actuality, a safe space is never actually safe. The concept of a brave space encompasses all of what the sectors discussed in this work regard as safe spaces, but also clarifies that these environments are challenging and that students are expected to participate within them. Administrators, faculty and staff can replace the term "safe space," as it pertains to class-based dialogues, with brave space."

Mark makes brave spaces wherever he goes, whether it's in one of his classes or in a one-on-one interview. He's not afraid to be vulnerable, and he makes it safe to be vulnerable around him. Diversity and inclusion aren't just a matter of involving people from marginalized communities. It's also making them feel included.

That moment a nine-year-old boy didn't feel included in his own family is still alive in Mark, making sure an entire campus never makes someone feel unwelcome.

By James Foreman