Our Continued Conversations series highlights the experts behind our content. Meet the presenters who make a difference in their fields and inspire our learners to do the same.
Kryss Shane, PhD, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW, guides business, education, and community leaders in diversity and inclusion efforts. Named by The New York Times among others as America's go-to leading LGBT+ expert, she is known for making each organization's specific diversity and inclusion needs become more manageable, approachable, and actionable.
Shane holds two master’s degrees and two licenses to practice mental healthcare. She is currently a lecturer at Columbia University and an adjunct professor at Brandman University. She is also the author of The Educator's Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion, the first book of its kind to guide educators, administrators, and school staff to become able and empowered to make their schools more LGBT+ inclusive.
She teaches courses on gender minority issues on Continued Social Work.
“The social work profession allows, encourages, and mandates me to keep working for change, to prioritize change, and to ensure change occurs. I am so proud to be in this field and to be in this field right now.”
Why did you pursue the field of social work?
It seems that most people who work in social work have a personal story or experience that draws them to this field. I’m someone who was always the support person and the go-to person for my friends, but I never considered making a career of it until much later.
I was always a believer in equality, and this led me to begin to become mindful of ways in which minority groups weren’t represented in my middle school and high school textbooks and in the media I enjoyed. This led me to speak up a lot in class, asking questions that many teachers had no answers to because their education also lacked inclusion. As my recognition of this problem grew, I began to realize this problem in my community and in families. This led me to earn my bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Simultaneously, I was volunteering a ton with LGBT+ organizations. Over time, my volunteer work grew, and many began asking why I didn’t do this as my profession. It hadn’t dawned on me before then that I could. This realization sent me into my first master’s degree, where I focused my studies on LGBT+ issues. As years passed, I was always bothered by how often textbooks in schools still lack representation of marginalized groups. This led me to go back to school for a second master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, followed by a doctorate in leadership.
I get to bring my LGBT+ work through the lens of leaders in our world, thus making me better at educating others and teaching them how to improve their allyship and activism.
There is a quote by Leymah Gbowee that has really been speaking to me again lately: “You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoe.”
I think this quote really speaks to the realities of social work and the reason I became a social worker. So often, marginalized people and activists are told to protest peacefully or to request support or to ask for someone to consider hearing us. While that is certainly a polite approach, the reality is that most people in positions of privilege don’t always recognize the true need for change or the need for abolishing a way of doing things because they aren’t the ones being harmed. This quote reminds me that, though it may be uncomfortable or scary or a personal risk to speak up as loudly as necessary (and to amplify the voices of those who certainly deserve to be heard), change cannot come if we only tiptoe around the status quo and those who uphold it. The social work profession allows, encourages, and mandates me to keep working for change, to prioritize change, and to ensure change occurs. I am so proud to be in this field and to be in this field right now. Now is not the time for tiptoeing; it is the time to demand justice, to demand safety, and to demand laws and systems that stop undermining the humanity of marginalized communities.
What inspired your expertise in diversity and inclusion?
I grew up mostly in a small town in northeast Ohio, and although I have some great memories of my upbringing, it was a really homogeneous place. I was in middle school before I met someone non-white, no one there was openly LGBT+, and I didn’t have experiences with a variety of cultures or backgrounds until I left town for college. That said, I was in the majority there, so I didn’t notice all of the ways that this experience sheltered me from the types of upbringings others were having throughout the country. Luckily, I have always been a reader from a very early age and I’ve always sought out opportunities to learn, which helped me to begin to build a foundation of learning about different people from different backgrounds even before I had friends who were much different from me. As an adult, I’ve traveled and lived all over the country and actively sought out experiences that make me uncomfortable so I could expand my worldview. I don’t find it helpful to surround myself with people who are just like me, I want to learn about how others see and experience the world. The more I know, the more supportive I can be, which also inspires my activism and my seeking out ways to use the privileges I have! Luckily, the field of social work allows me to do this as a profession!
What can workplaces, schools, and other organizations do to ensure inclusivity?
Inclusivity comes from leaders who choose to guide others toward acceptance and equity. Leadership is what happens when a person inspires others to recognize their own power, which results in a collective movement toward change. We see this in every large city and in every small town that supports LGBT+ people. It isn’t about one person and millions of followers; it’s about many people who are amplifying one another, demanding justice, and letting every LGBT+ person know that there is safety in numbers and that they are not alone if they want to take to the streets to fight to change a systemic problem that puts their lives in jeopardy. It’s about recognizing intersectionality and also seeing people as more than just one or two aspects of their identity. The efforts toward inclusion are not successful because one person uses threats or harm to force others to do their bidding; they are successful because this work supports many and it allows participants to feel their importance and to use their voices and their power to join a collective demand that all people be treated appropriately and that all systems that undermine this be dismantled.
What makes you so passionate about your field?
I only do work I believe in, so the conversations come from a mixture of my academic background and from the marrow of my bones. For me, self-care is imperative during times when the fight is months and years and decades long. In those self-care moments, I do a lot of writing, I find activist friends to surround myself with, and I try to remember to eat and to sleep at least somewhat regularly.
How have more recent events of racial injustice in our country impacted your work?
Often, I am brought into an event or space as a subject matter expert. When I am brought in, it is typically in an experience where I am the expert on my topic area and everyone is in the room to learn from me. However, in moments such as the movement of Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter, the circumstances are quite different. In these situations, my role isn’t as an expert; my role is as an amplifier. It isn’t my place to take the microphone from Black and Brown people. It is, however, my place as a white person to work to educate other white people. Too often, society expects a group to shoulder the burdens, to grieve the losses, to process the anger, and to educate the masses. It’s unfair and it is harmful. As such, I utilize all I learn as a tool to help teach other white people, allowing them to also become better allies and activists without expecting or needing more emotional labor from already over-extended Black and Brown activists.
Why is online continuing education important, and why do you enjoy presenting for Continued?
Continuing education is critical. Though we all come to school to learn initially, when that time ends organically, we could easily become set in our ways with outdated information. Continuing to become educated (whether as a licensing requirement or for personal goals) is crucial for ensuring that everything we do is rooted in correct and researched knowledge. Continued is key for this! Not only can a person learn from their own comfort spaces (yay for online learning!), Continued only uses actual subject matter experts. No one is mind-numbingly reading from slides someone else wrote; rather, each course is taught by someone knowledgeable and passionate about what they are teaching. As a result, it’s so easy to find a topic, to learn something new, and to absorb and feel the excitement and emotion that the presenter has.
I love getting to be a part of the Continued family because I get to share my passion, I am a part of the growth process for others, and I get to learn from those who have expertise in areas where I can improve and evolve too!