LaVonne has been sticking up for the underdog her whole life. Long before she came to Concordia she was passionate about standing against injustice and standing up for those who don’t have a seat at the table or who have been looked at as “less-than.” She currently works with university students implementing restorative practices in higher education. She credits her Concordia experience for challenging and evolving her and her fellow students into not only better citizens but better community leaders and all around better educators.
Please tell us about what you consider to be one of the biggest impacts you are making/have made in one of your respective communities.
When asked about the positive impact she is having on her community LaVonne sees the future. She is engaging students today to build a better tomorrow. She sees her work at a local university implementing Restorative Justice and restorative practices as having a small impact now, but understands that the groundwork she is laying has the potential to be huge. Her patience is paying off.
What have you learned about the diverse needs of this community?
“Young college students struggle to have conversations with those who have different views from them. They are not always able to accurately express themselves and communicate what they are feeling. They are learning that just because we look the same does not mean we think the same. Part of the communication disconnect seems to be from students not understanding how to listen to each other and at times, not caring if they are disrespectful of other groups.” LaVonne knows that any hope for a better tomorrow starts with young people today. The work that she is doing with Restorative Justice in the university has the potential to have an amazingly positive impact.
How was your research/study as part of CUI’s EDD program helped you address the needs of this community?
“It’s been an amazing 3 years! The whole journey overall prepared me for this moment. I haven’t just learned academic knowledge, but life knowledge,” says Riggs of her CUI experience.
Through her dissertation research, coursework and the 2 trips, LaVonne says that she is looking at education through a different lens. In particular the trips have really impacted her thinking especially when it comes to working with her university community. “The D.C. trip was beyond amazing! The speakers showed us a different perception of reality. What we thought was real and what is reality was very different. This will allow us to look at our districts and our state in a different light.” The China trip broadened her perspective of social justice. “ Looking at social justice in China - gave me a much broader view of the world. Different communities have different terms/meanings for concepts example the word “inclusive" has a different meaning in China than in the USA.’ It also made me question what does social justice look like as a whole? This degree is broadening my point of view in that aspect.” For LaVonne the two trips not only impacted her ability to meet the needs of her community but also validated her choice of CUI. She feels sorry for the folks who are doing Ed.D.s at other schools. “You can’t learn these experiences in the classroom.”
LaVonne also credits her Ed.D. instructors for her success “not letting us fall by the wayside. They are in the trenches with us guiding to make sure we are successful, sometimes pulling info out of us kicking and screaming. The leadership training was amazing. Everyone brought their “A” game to challenge and evolve us into not only better citizens but better community leaders and all around better educators.
How have you used your research or experience to develop strategies to meet these needs?
LaVonne says that the coursework and China trip helped her realize she knows very little about the world as a whole, but now she understands how to find the information - where to go - and how to read the data. Whether it’s working with her college students or any other group, this program has taught her that she doesn't have, and doesn’t need to have, all the answers. She is confident she can do research and find the information she needs.
How has your involvement with this community impacted other areas of your life?
This is very personal for LaVonne. Injustice has always been an issue for her, even in raising her children. “Sticking up for the underdog. For those wanting to be heard and not having that ability. For those not having a seat at the table - who been looked at as ‘less-than.’ The time is now to stop that mindset for our students and even our faculty.” Part of the Restorative Justice work that she is doing involves bias training for adults. “We all have bias but we need to recognize our bias so we can adjust our frame of thinking and create a backup plan when necessary.”
LaVonne wants to give people of all ages the tools to get along and to address their issues with each other without shame. “We are so easily offended. There is so much shame in our society from years and years of issues not ever being resolved. We even bully people with shame. It is important to teach people to learn to communicate without shaming. When we can come together without shame, knowing we are not perfect and knowing we have issues we will be able to come together and have those difficult conversations. We need to get to a place where we can acknowledge that we may not agree on a topic but we can leave the conversation having a little bit more knowledge and respect for each other's viewpoints.”
LaVonne’s goal is for people to realize we all are valid and we all have a purpose regardless or our background or experiences. “We all have a richness to bring to the conversation if we are listening and willing to learn how to have a cohesive dialogue.”
LaVonne your CUI community applauds you and thanks you for being willing to Engage!
Additional responses from Pre-Interview Survey
In what ways, if any, has the Ed.D. program enhanced your ability to assess and develop positions/programs/interventions to respond to the needs of this community?
The Ed.D program has broadened my view of community. It has given me a much wider understanding of academia and the needs of educational culture. Through this program I discovered restorative practices and have been finding ways to involve myself in a variety of programs that work on implementing restorative practices and justices. I feel the opportunities that the program has provided has been wonderful. The trips have enhanced and deepened the experience. The professors have all been knowledgeable and encouraging. With the support of the program, I feel that I have been able to excel at becoming a better educator and member of my community.
"Restorative Justice: Meeting Students Where They're at." Presented by LaVonne Riggs-Zeigen to students at Grand Canyon University Diversity Speaks Forum, Phoenix, AZ, February 2019.