Meeting Review: Inclusive Communication—Alternatives to Assumption







By Justine Sutton

Wednesday, November 3rd, AWC-SB members and guests gathered on Zoom for the chapter’s monthly meeting, which regularly features distinguished presenters on relevant topics.

As professional communicators, of course we want to reach a wide audience with a clear message. But we know that sometimes we inadvertently say or write something that derails that message. And we are keenly aware that it can be challenging to navigate personal and social guidelines, which are evolving and changing all the time.

This month, AWC-SB welcomed Cheri Gurse and Anita Perez Ferguson, with their presentation on “Inclusive Communication – From Using Pronouns to Uncovering Unconscious Biases.”

Cheri Gurse, PhD in Human Development, is an educator, activist, and mentor with more than 30 years’ professional experience in university classrooms, non-profit organizations, and community spaces. Cheri has been recognized with awards from multiple local organizations and, along with Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, facilitates Heart to Heart discussion groups, providing space for conversations about race. Happily pivoting from teaching sociology and psychology at Antioch University to retirement, Cheri is looking forward to her next chapter.

Anita Perez Ferguson, Ph.D. is a cross-cultural educator and consultant, an advisor and former chair for the InterAmerican Foundation, and a visiting lecturer for the Council for Independent Colleges. In 2014, Anita was awarded the Lacayo Lifetime Achievement Award from the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute. The author of A Passion for Politics and the co-author of the Women Seen and Heard series, her historic fiction includes Twisted Cross and Golden Secrets.

After taking a poll reflecting on times they have made missteps with their messaging, participants adjourned into breakout rooms for small group discussions on these experiences. When the full group reconvened, a lively conversation followed, with a special focus on gender pronouns and how to navigate unfamiliar linguistic dynamics.

“For me, sharing pronouns is an invitation for people who are stepping out into revealing difference in a safe place which was not always possible,” said Lisa Danhi, AWC-SB’s board secretary. “It feels like celebrating and honoring diversity and breaking the habit of assuming we ‘know’ about someone based on first impressions and outward appearance.”

Chapter President Lisa Osborn shared, “I have learned more on diversity, equity, and inclusion in my five years at UCSB working with students than in my entire life. I love that college-age students are so inclusive and accepting of each other being themselves.”

“I think their neural pathways around linguistics are better primed for the different pronouns because they’ve emerged into the world with all of these changes while we are trying to deprogram our neural pathways around many of these identifiers,” said member Rachel Sarah Thurston. “But I don’t think it’s ever too late to make changes in our brains.”

As an added bonus, Cheri and Anita shared a resource on increasing accessibility for those with disabilities: “5 Ways to Make your Online Meetings more Accessible.”

November AWC-SB Member Spotlight

Justine Sutton graduated from UCSB in 1988 and has adopted Santa Barbara as her hometown. A freelance journalist since her 1991 editorial internship at the SB Independent, she has written for a variety of local media outlets since then, including the News-Press, Independent, Noozhawk, Montecito Magazine, Seasons Magazine, Cannabis by the Sea, and the new UCSB alumni magazine. In addition, she writes fiction and memoir and is working on her first novel. She is also in training as a voice-over artist and has dabbled in improv, storytelling, and stand-up comedy. Last year Justine became a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant®, providing customized weddings, funerals, and ceremonies to mark all important moments in life. She has been an AWC-SB member and volunteer on and off for a decade and serves as chapter “scribe” by writing recaps of the monthly meetings.

The End of An Era?

November’s meeting may have been our last one on Zoom! Wednesday, December 1st, is the chapter’s annual holiday meeting, and in January we will begin to gather again in person as long as it is determined to be safe by local guidelines.

Another Successful Membership Drive!

As this goes to press, AWC-SB has gained 14 new members during October’s membership drive. Kudos to Membership Chair Carolyn Jabs, President Lisa Osborn, and all others for their efforts. And a big welcome to our new members! If you are interested in joining this dynamic group of communicators, click here for details, or email to schedule a time to talk.

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