By Derby Chukwudi
Jones shares her perspective as a woman in the Workforce
As the new academic year begins, for so many people in this country, the future is not certain, but hope is still in the air. Women have been faced with challenges in different arenas of life and despite their persistence to overcome these challenges, the struggle still exists. On this issue, The Pinnacle interviewed the director of the Black Cultural Center, Ms. Monica Jones.
Pinnacle: How has working in Berea shaped your perspective on diversity and inclusion?
Jones: Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to how I see the world. I have spent time in spaces as the only person of color from kindergarten to doctoral classes. At Berea College, the idea of radical love…impartial love…has shaped the missions and vision of the institution. I’m working at the first interracial, coeducational college in the South-Berea College. I was raised in a church that was birthed out of a social justice movement. I have a circle of sisters who have broken barriers in their personal and professional lives. I have met colleagues at Berea College who have made me a deeper thinker, who have challenged my assumptions, and who have respected me and my shortcomings. More importantly, I have students at Berea College who allow me to be a part of their personal growth as they use education as the force that will change the narrative of their lives…a legacy of scholars at Berea College who represent the ideals of diversity and inclusion.
Pinnacle: What are some challenges you face as a woman in the workforce?
Jones: The one challenge that I faced as a young professional was the reactions from seasoned colleagues about my ideas and thoughts on various projects and events. I would present or share an idea that was “cutting-edge” and others would question every angle of the possibility but as soon as an older colleague gave voice to the idea it took root and had viability. As a Black woman every time I walked into a meeting, I had to be prepared for the possibility that I might be the only person of color in the room. That mental exercise can be exhausting because I had to be prepared to advocate for diversity and inclusion regardless of the subject matter. I was always asking my colleagues, “Who’s not at the table and how to ensure perspectives beyond our own are represented?”
Pinnacle: Who is your favorite female author and how do her perspectives shape your idea of being a woman in the workforce?
Jones: I must pick two authors because both have been integral in my personal development. First, Maya Angelou because she spoke to my spiritual energy…I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Rainbow in the Cloud, The Heart of a Woman, Phenomenal Woman, And Still I Rise, and Mother. Second, bell hooks because she speaks to my intellectual energy…Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom, Writing beyond race: living theory and practice. Both Maya and bell created space for Black women to share our experiences in life and in love…if I ever get a tattoo it will be of the six ingredients of love: care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust…that gave me life as a young woman navigating falling in love or what I thought love was at that time. Both women allowed me to walk with confidence and grace even when my very presence was issue for others. bell states, “If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimateand validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”
Pinnacle: According to Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook, in her book “Lean In”, “most women are not afraid of having it all, but are more afraid of losing it all.” Losing it all here she means, losing their career, social life, and family because of being involved in the workforce and attaining great heights in their various organizations. What are your opinions on this statement? Should women ever worry about losing it all or should they focus on having it all?
Jones: What God has ordained for you is only for you. Yes, but the title for my book would be “Lean On” meaning leaning on the foundation that steadied my life through my personal relationship with my Creator. I have been blessed beyond my own imagination. My life’s journey cannot be compared to anyone else.
Pinnacle: What advice do you have for Berea College females who eventually may be faced with challenges that come along with being in the workforce and taking care of their families?
Jones: My words of advice for every female at Berea is to make yourself a priority. In order to care for others, you must first make sure that you take care of you. Being raised in an AME Church family, my faith walk is critical to all aspects of my life including the ways in which I engage with students. Whether or not someone shares the same religious beliefs as me is not important. Knowing that each one of us has the power to touch the spirit in someone is the key. As for young females, do not let fear be the force that stops you; do it in fear knowing that fear will subside so that greatness can arise. In the words of Maya Angelou, “If one has courage, nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
Pinnacle: As we begin a new academic year, what words of encouragement do you have for Berea College students?
Jones: My words of encouragement to every student is to see yourself not as a student but as a scholar…a scholar is committed to lifelong learning. A scholar recognizes that learning occurs in various settings– attending class, sitting with one’s elders, standing in protest, traveling beyond the US borders, and dialoguing with someone with whom you’ve never met. A scholar has certain attributes associated with him or her—sacrifice, commitment, honesty, opportunities, learning, attitude and resiliency.