Dr. Terri Givens Offers Lessons on ‘Radical Empathy’ During Keuka College Appearance

The author and educator outlined the importance of vulnerability and mutual understanding in delivering the Provost’s Distinguished Lecture on April 11.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Through a combination of personal stories and photographs, historical details, and academic references, Dr. Terri Givens last week delivered Keuka College’s Provost’s Distinguished Lecture. Her presentation focused on her most recent book, “Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides.”

Dr. Givens shared several life experiences as she discussed the importance of vulnerability and empathy in her own life. The next step, Dr. Givens said, is taking action, and that is what makes empathy radical.
“Empathy is not just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, it’s also about finding out what that person needs from you, ” she told the audience of nearly 100 at Norton Chapel. “So how do I go about trying to find out how I can help that person? I try to be curious and ask questions to develop relationships. That means I am doing more than just having compassion for someone.” 

She also outlined her Six Steps of Radical Empathy: a willingness to be vulnerable, becoming grounded in who you are, opening yourself to the experiences of others, practicing empathy, taking action, and creating change and building trust. 
“But before I talked about the Six Steps of Radical Empathy, I had to first understand my own identity,” said Dr. Givens. “I needed to really understand my identity from the perspective of what it means to be Black and coming to terms with how and where I was raised.”
Dr. Givens said the way to understand identity is to look at your whole self.

“I’m talking about who you are. I am not just a Black woman who happens to be a professor. I am a mom, I am a runner, I love camping, I love going to national parks,” she said. “What are some ways I can connect with you? Maybe it’s over our love of wine, or maybe it’s over a love of board games. The issue is how we develop relationships and get beyond our normal friend group. You have to find different ways to connect with people. You have to be vulnerable before you can ask someone else to be vulnerable.” 
But empathy is not absolution, she warned.

“Just because you empathize with someone does not mean you are taking their position, and you may still disagree with them,” said Dr. Givens. “But showing empathy means you are willing to listen and develop that relationship.”
Learning how to develop relationships was a lesson Olivia Gudeahn ’25 appreciated.
“This event gave me a better reflection on who I am and coming here gave me a step to better understanding others,” said Olivia, psychology major.
Classmate Hannah Hoose ’25, a social work major, agreed.
“I am always interested in new perspectives and learning about people’s backgrounds and cultures, which I believe is an important quality,” Hannah said. “Knowing how to have empathy means I will be able to learn more about someone and help them in any way I can.” 

Dr. Givens serves as Professor of Political Science and Provost’s Academic Lead and Advisor at McGill University in Montreal and is the founder of Brighter Professional Development, which offers a modern approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

“In her book, she writes, ‘diversity is the future of higher education, and we need inclusive leaders who are willing to learn and use these tools to support students, faculty, and staff in these institutions,’” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Brad Fuster. “Dr. Givens has made a real impact on me personally. I feel so connected to her and am honored to have her on campus.”
Keuka College’s Provost’s Distinguished Lecture Series invites prominent professionals to campus to speak on important topics. It provides opportunities for scholarly and social discussion of current issues relevant to the campus and local community.