Elephants & Onions: Peeling Back the Layers

For so many of us, diversity is often the Elephant in the room. We notice differences, we see differences, and we know that differences are there. However, our need to say the right thing and ensure that we are not offensive can create a fear in us that makes us not want to even talk about diversity. It is important as we continue to explore how we show up and navigate the world around us, and as we begin to approach the start of another academic year, take some intentional time for self-exploration. 

Think of this kind of self-exploration like peeling back the layers of an onion. You need to explore the layers of your identities, privileges, life experiences, values, assumptions, and behaviors. Conversations and exercises like this can often be uncomfortable – but the more comfortable we can get with being uncomfortable sets us up to learn, listen, share, and grow together.  

In the Elephants and Onions Interactive Workshop, we spend very intentional time with getting comfortable with the uncomfortable and exploring our personal and social identities. This exploration leads to an activity that to help to explore some of the main ways in which we approach responding to and understanding or communicating our experience to others. They are the: HEAD, HEART, and HAND. 

In addition to our identities, the HEAD, the HEART and the HAND are active parts of our human presence. Because of this they deliberately influence our thoughts, emotions and actions. All three play a key piece for envisioning and enacting a more inclusive world, outlined below:

  • HEAD: The Head requires collecting, understanding and reporting of information to understand the world, and allows you to seek supportive evidence. This is the intellectual/logic part of a situation.
  • HEART: The Heart seeks to share emotional experiences to understand the world, and allows you to establish rapport and seek empathy with someone. This is the emotional/feeling part of a situation.
  • HAND: The Hand provides a way to create action to practically support an impact on the world. This is the action part of a situation, once the Head and Heart have been considered.

Sometimes it is critical to our growth that we take time to reflect on who we are. Reflecting on who we are and understanding who we are provides us a great opportunity to grow as person and as leader. Before we return to our campuses for another academic year, take some time to consider these pieces of yourself. 

We don’t always get a chance to know more information about people around us and their situations. So, it is important that we are willing to take responsibility for our response patterns and how we respond to others. We need to be aware of how we show up to situations and make room for understanding others. We need to better understand our own inner “Onion” (the multifaceted Human Being, with lots of layers that we are) to be able to welcome the Elephant (the uncomfortable things to talk about). 


This blog was inspired by the curriculum for the Interactive Workshop, Elephants and Onions. Learn more about Elephants and Onions at campuspeak.com/elephantsandonions