The Digest recently interviewed longtime National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) trainer and well-known NC State administrator and diversity practitioner Roger Callanan. Dr. Callanan, known for his positive and thoughtful demeanor, has been a quiet force and constant presence on the NC State NCBI Team over the years. He has also held many posts at NC State, all tied together with a common underlying theme of teaching, bridging differences and service to others.
The youngest of 7 children, a log cabin on the banks of Sand Creek (pronounced ” crick”) in Marne, Michigan will always be “home” to me. Although I only spent the first 1/4 of my life there, where and with whom we grow up have a lifetime of influence on our formation. I value the agricultural and blue-collar roots of my parents, neighbors and classmates even though I thought at the time that one’s success was partly measured by how far away from home you could get. Happily, I didn’t get far.
I dropped out of the University of Notre Dame after a couple years and went on the road for a while, working odd jobs and volunteering doing home construction, a forerunner to today’s Habitat for Humanity. Eventually, I returned to school, graduating with a degree in Psychology from Stonehill College near in North Easton, MA. After working for a couple years in a variety of human service positions, I completed my Masters in Guidance and Counseling at the University of Hartford. I worked in a vocational rehabilitation unit at Connecticut Valley Hospital for a couple more years before Nancy and I moved to North Carolina where I completed my doctorate in Counselor Education here at NC State.
How long have you been working at NC State, and in which departments?
With the help of the director of the Counseling Center, I expanded my internship there into full-time work for about 2 ½ years while working on my doctorate. I then worked as tutorial coordinator, academic facilitator, and interim director of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes for 9 years and director of New Student Orientation for another 9 years before taking the “dark road” of academic administration with the Division of Undergraduate Academic Programs (DUAP) and, most recently, the Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA). I have been most fortunate to have been given the opportunity to create Student Ombuds Services over the last couple of years.
With which additional activities have you been involved during your time at NC State?
I’ve been at NC State a long time, so I won’t make an exhaustive list of all the committees and initiatives, but a few of the highlights include: helping establish orientation courses for new students, including student-athletes; First Year Experience (which became First Year College); realignment of DUAP and Student Affairs into DASA; serving as staff advisor on Alternative Service Break adventures focused on poverty, religious traditions, education and respect for diverse cultures; helping create what is now known as “Wolfpack Welcome Week”; establishing the University’s Common Reading initiative; teaching a variety of graduate courses in Counselor Education; co-facilitating the Counseling Center’s Grief Group; and work with first-generation students in Pack Promise and Summer START programs.
What have you enjoyed doing most here at NC State, and why?
There has been a lot of joy in the work and activities in which I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to engage. However, the work that I continue to find most fulfilling is my role as a facilitator with NC State’s affiliate chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI). Under Beverly Jones Williams’ inspired leadership, the diversity training programs facilitated by a core team of trained staff, faculty and student facilitators have positively impacted and influenced thousands of members of the university community over the 15 years of NCBI’s presence on this campus. This community of challenging and supportive facilitators has certainly influenced my own growth in exploring, understanding and participating effectively in difficult dialogues and sometimes controversial interpersonal issues. This work has equipped me to be more effective in my “day job” as well as in the classroom and in cross-cultural communication. Related, for the last five semesters, I’ve served as co-instructor for USC240: Leadership and Coalition Building in Diverse Communities, a course for undergraduates to celebrate differences, understand systems of oppression and to learn skills to effectively counteract institutional and interpersonal discrimination and mistreatment. Working with students has always been a source of joy and great encouragement for our future.
Why do you feel diversity programs are important in universities?
As an individual who walks this world carrying most majority identities (e.g. white, male, Christian, …), my greatest privilege is to not have to notice the experience of those less empowered. When I’m challenged or uncomfortable, I can easily turn a blind eye and walk on or leave the room; many others can not. Diversity programs are essential for those like me in order to raise our awareness and to provoke us to action. We can no longer fail to recognize our interconnectedness with all others. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” On one level, taking action to promote diversity and inclusion is a moral imperative, but on a more human (and perhaps selfish) level, we all benefit when we dissolve the “we” and the “they” into “us.”
For the majority of my professional career, I have been fortunate to report to African American supervisors. As one of these mentors advised early in our relationship, “The first thing you must do is forget that I am Black. The second thing you must do is never forget that I am Black.” This dynamic tension of acknowledging each person’s individual and collective identities is both important and challenging. Certainly our students-of-color benefit by working with faculty-, staff-, and peers-of-color. However, those of us who represent socially empowered identities benefit, too. My experience and my work at NC State these last 35 years would have been greatly diminished if not for the encouragement provided by my diverse colleagues – to learn, to make mistakes, to be enriched by the variety of perspectives they cared enough to share with me. This diversity of individuals, experiences and ideas and the stimulating environment to which they contribute, is at the core of what it means to be a “university.”