Reading Guide: September 2020 Meeting

Reading questions for "Nature, Culture, & the Sacred: A Woman Listens for Leadership," by Nina Simons

Simons book cover
Book cover image for “Nature, Culture, & the Sacred: A Woman Listens for Leadership” by Nina Simons

The cover illustration is Samatnabhadra on Bike by Mayumi Oda

  • What’s your reaction to the use of this illustration on the cover of this book? Why do you think it was selected?

Simons establishes a dichotomy between masculine and feminine characteristics of leadership (in the conclusion she acknowledges how this feels like a dated framework but still useful for much of her work). 

  • How could she have complicated this approach?
  • Setting aside the terms, what utility did you see in her split between two competing visions of leadership (solitary, accomplished, self-assured vs. deep-listening, relational, collectivity, and collaboration). Is there room for both approaches? Which is most valued in higher ed?

We will put this reading in conversation with others that approach intersectionality in other ways. 

  • What does Simons mean by “full spectrum leadership?”
  • What does this term mean to you?
  • Describe its relation to other concepts or principles in feminism.

On page 13, we are asked “Who is in this river you’ve opted to swim in, on behalf of our collective future?”

  • As you ponder your own answer, incorporate an intersectional lens.

On page 70, Nina writes “It took me a long time to understand that I had privilege compared to women of color and to move beyond guilt or shame about it, so that I could start to try to make a difference and transform that biased system at its roots.” Describe your reaction to this statement.

  • How does it resonate with your experiences?

Simons spends much of the book discussing leaders who inspire her, particularly in their abilities to overcome difference, establish connections, and sit comfortably in moments of rupture.  (Also, devotion, focus, passion, collaborative leading, and mentorship). The chapter Grassroots Women gives a long list of women-led movements worldwide and concludes with a description of the ways the world will change as women gain power and equity.

  • How have you seen this in your life and professional experiences?
  • What do you think about the consequence of ‘feminine traits’ growing to be appreciated in everyone?
  • What traits are most valuable to you in a leader?
  • Which traits seem the most challenging to execute in higher education?

On page 100, Simons describes her changing view of activism.

  • How has your perspective on activism changed?
  • How are you an activist?
  • Is activism essential to the role of leadership and changing context of higher education?

In her interview with Anaya Young (chapter Reclaiming Activism), Simons talks about a changing model of leadership.

  • Discuss the role of sacrifice in leadership. (see page 105)
  • Discuss prioritizing relationships over tasks. (see pages 107-109)

Interpret the statement “silence is violence” in the context of The Power of Story (p130 – 141). Reflect on the use of storytelling in leadership.

  • How does our intersectional identity shape our story?
  • What story do you tell yourself?
  • How can you change it, to greater empower yourself?

Discuss colonialism’s relationship to equity and diversity.

  • List three ways we help ensure that our leadership doesn’t colonize.

Simons’ mentor Dawna Markova taught “relationships are a function of rupture and repair” (p173).

  • What do you think about this phrase?
  • How does it apply to leadership?
  • What about intersectional leadership?

Which three of the Pathways for Repair After Ruptures (p178-195) will you immediately apply to your work as an activist and leader? How?

Simons gives a quote from Oscar Miro-Quesada on page 221: “If you remember only one thing from this time, remember this: Consciousness creates matter // Language creates reality // Ritual creates relationship.”

  • How will you change yourself, to create?

This book focuses mainly on leadership outside of higher ed.  It will be useful to think about how the author frames leadership and its opportunities within social justice work in this context as we delve into other readings that focus exclusively on institutions of higher learning. 

  • What can we learn about her frameworks focused on self-care, balance, and inspiration?
  • How do Indigenous philosophies influence her approaches to leadership?
  • How could a focus on wholeness, self-care, and shared leadership principles change how gender equity and inclusivity looks like in campus cultures, policies, and institutional values?