September 2014

Print this page ›

August 2014

News From Lea Asbell-Swanger, USITT President

Finding Ways Forward at a Retreat

The USITT Board of Directors meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.

As has become our tradition, the Board of Directors met in August for a business meeting and retreat. The use of the word "retreat" in both the corporate and academic worlds has an accepted usage that, in my mind, conflicts with its actual definition. The full definition of retreat is:

  1. movement by soldiers away from an enemy because the enemy is winning or has won a battle
  2. movement away from a place or situation especially because it is dangerous, unpleasant, etc.
  3. the act of changing your opinion or position on something because it is unpopular

A common synonym is "withdrawal" and not surprisingly, the antonym is "advance." There is an obscure definition, which I am sure is the source of our modern usage that is "a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director." Even that has a tone of "movement away" as opposed to "toward" and I prefer to think of the convening of the leadership of USITT by any name as a means to move USITT forward.

The board was joined in Nashville by the Commissioner and one Vice-Commissioner from each of our Commissions, which has become an expected component of the August gathering in recent years. (Because I know some are wondering, we selected Nashville primarily because some of the staff would be attending an ASAE {American Society of Association Executives} Conference the days immediately preceding our dates, but it was also an opportunity to re-visit a city in which we had conferenced 20 years ago!) Also in attendance were up to two representatives from each of the Regional Sections.

As you may remember, one of our seven strategic initiatives that resulted from our last strategic planning process was to "nurture and foster the relationships with Regional Sections," so this seemed an opportune time to bring those USITT leaders together outside of the Annual Conference. After spending an afternoon with them, I am tempted to suggest a modification of the initiative to read "nurture and foster the relationships with and between Regional Sections, because I witnessed some wonderful sharing of programs and ideas between these volunteer leaders.

Part of the purpose of inviting the section leadership was to discuss a formalized legal relationship between sections and the national organization. This conversation began in Fort Worth at the Conference with important feedback and questions from all parties, but more information and dialogue was needed. David Grindle and Martha Marking, Vice-President for Members, Sections & Chapters, with support from Monica Merritt, Director of Member Services, did lots of due diligence to gather and distribute details and other pertinent data. Section leaders did their part as well in preparation for further conversation.

Great progress was made in Nashville and if you are a member of a Regional Section you should know, if you do not already, that your officers represent your needs and expectations incredibly well. The ultimate goal of all involved in this process is to ensure that communication and information distribution needs are better served by both regional sections and USITT at large.

Each of these groups had its own meeting time, but all of us came together on Thursday morning for a workshop on diversity and inclusion.

Carmen Morgan leading a group exercise for USITT's meeting.

The USITT board approved the creation of the Diversity Initiative last November and one component of that was the creation of the Gateway Program which had a test run at the Fort Worth Conference. (Further details will be included in the October Sightlines, but a teaser is here.) From ensuing discussions at the Conference and afterward, the opportunity to provide education and awareness to the wide array of USITT leadership attending the August meetings was essential for USITT to further define the initiative for the most meaningful impact on the industry. We also realized that we needed some expertise beyond that available within our membership.

That led us to invite Carmen Morgan, the Director of Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations (LDIR), a program founded by Advancing Justice - LA and co-sponsored by the Central American Resource Center and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to serve as our external facilitator. Ms. Morgan came to our attention through work she is doing with TCG, in particular by way of David Stewart's invitation to represent USITT on a panel at the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Boarders, but more on that in a minute. She worked with members of the USITT Diversity Initiative Committee and several of them served as additional facilitators during the workshop. Next month's Sightlines will include more details on the process, information, and impact of the workshop.

So back to the notion of advancement as opposed to retreat. TCG requested a panelist from USITT at the table at their conference because word was out in our industry about USITT's progress with a diversity initiative. This is exactly where we want and deserve to be with any topic that is important to our members – at the forefront. It is a huge responsibility to lead, to continue moving an idea forward, but I believe that it is exactly what the USITT founders intended and what the membership continues to expect.

Lea Asbell-Swanger

We'd like to hear your comments on this story.
Please e-mail Lea at