UMass Learning Communities

What if I say the Wrong thing book stacks

Learning Communities Book Groups center around “What if I Say the Wrong Thing? 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People” by Vernā Myers and “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” by Brene Brown. Both books will be provided to participants for free, and accessible versions of the books are available via UMass Libraries or the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

Throughout the semester, participants will meet regularly to recognize challenges and develop tools for more thoughtful interaction across difference, and understand how our attempts at finding connections and building communities can also lead to polarization. These foundational concepts and skills are vital in our road to building an inclusive community grounded in dignity and respect.

Supervisors are asked to provide release time for staff to attend these sessions, including the kickoff lunch and end of semester group dinner. If you need a representative from the Office of Equity and Inclusion to request release time, please contact us or indicate the need on the interest form.

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Two Stages

Those who are new to either UMass or the Learning Community initiative will be placed in a group reading “What if I Say the Wrong Thing?,” where they will learn how to engage one another effectively and with respect, even when experiences or beliefs sharply differ. Overall, groups tackle questions that most of us have felt paralyzed by, such as "What should I say," "What should I do?" "How do I keep from saying the wrong thing?" "What do I need to know about myself and others to speak inclusively?"

Those who have completed the first book group can join a group based on “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown. “Braving the Wilderness” offers an opportunity to have a much more in-depth conversation about what makes a respectful and fulfilling community, a conversation that started with “What if I Say the Wrong Thing?”.

The Goal:

Help students, faculty, and staff improve communication across differences and create positive relationships with others in the UMass community.

The Challenge:

We come from diverse backgrounds and experiences that lead to varying levels of comfort and ability to interact thoughtfully across difference. Poor interactions can be very harmful, and worries about being misinterpreted can make interactions stressful. These concerns can keep individuals from engaging with others who don’t share their background or lead to miscommunication when they do.

The Plan:

Book discussion groups will be spaces to help individuals develop skills and unpack challenges to respectful community by enabling participants to practice thoughtful interaction across difference with these books as a guide.

"What If I Say The Wrong Thing?" is a highly rated, short, easily digestible handbook of thought-provoking tips on how to be, and how to help others become, more culturally effective.  Author Vernā Myers explores the pitfalls of engaging across difference and offers solutions in powerful but accessible ways.

In "Braving the Wilderness", Brene Brown teaches us what it means to truly belong, and that true belonging starts within us. If we can belong within ourselves, even if it feels like we are alone in the wilderness, we share our most authentic selves.

All participants will receive a free copy of the book, attend small group meetings, and have access to an online forum to interact as they read, sharing resources, as well as posing and answering questions. Accessible versions of the book are available as well. Participants will be invited to join us for a wrap-up celebration dinner at the end of the semester.

The Outcomes:

At the end of the Learning Community activities, we believe that each participant will experience:

  • Reduced stress when interacting with others

  • Increased cultural awareness and respect for differences

  • Increased sense of belonging

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