Ron Crutcher on I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on the Road to Leadership

Ron Crutcher

On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast, we’re talking with Dr. Ron Crutcher, President and Professor of Music at the University of Richmond and author of the new book I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on the Road to Leadership.

Dr. Crutcher was founding co-chair of Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) and a former member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. His new book highlights his own journey, as well as his principles for leading and being.

Let’s listen in as Tom and Dr. Crutcher discuss the influence of music, strong leadership, the role of university and much more.

Dr. Crutcher is a respected leader and has long been an avid musician. He started singing in a baptist church in Cincinnati, where he grew up, and went on to become a very talented cellist and singer. Through his musical training, Dr. Crutcher  traveled to a college campus once a week, and this frequency of college visit left a lasting impact —  neither of his parents had attended college.

His teacher, Dr. Elizabeth Potteiger, influenced his leadership style through the way that she taught which he described as being “quiet, but exacting; disciplined but broad-minded.” And she stressed learning to perform like an athlete. Through all of this experience, he gained some key experiences as a musician that have shaped who he is as a leader: emphasis on collaboration and honesty and openess about criticism. He also became dedicated to “leading a school that changes lives.”

All of these experiences culminated in his recent book, I Had No Idea You Were Black: Navigating Race on the Road to Leadership. In this book he lays out three principles: know yourself, be kind to others, no matter how difficult they are, and to take care of yourself mentally and physically that are beautiful, simple and more important than ever. “I try to interact with colleagues in such a way that they can see the spirit within me.” – Dr. Ron Crutcher

He also outlines three additional lessons:

  • Lesson One: Acknowledging an uncomfortable history can lead to conversations that point the way forward.
  • Lesson Two: Respond to controversial speech with more speech.
  • Lesson Three: Slow down.
    • We must learn how to give people the benefit of the doubt.
    • We must establish cultures of trustworthiness

Later in the episode he goes into the importance of college: “College is one of the best—and perhaps last—opportunities many young people will have to live in community with those who come from worlds different from their own.” He continues to discuss how colleges remain the crucibles of learning how to live in a democratic society and how the very purpose of higher education is to “interrogate truths, support arguments with fact and reason, uncover new knowledge, and create greater understanding.”

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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