How many DEI directors will it take to get accountability?
So, I just spent two semesters establishing a new DEI shop at a small liberal arts college. I received a lot of questions about how I do this work. I thought a lot about different approaches I had experienced over my 20 years in education. I had several awesome mentors who helped me consider different approaches. Some approaches are purely celebratory in that the DEI work is about recognizing holidays and months dedicated to marginalized groups. Other approaches are largely utilitarian designed to emphasize compliance and avoid scrutiny that might cause a dip in enrollment or an expensive lawsuit. I have been told by leaders that DEI work “isn’t just about race and gender”, an interesting quip from people who surround themselves with white men – yes even people who are not themselves white men.
For me, establishing a planned Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office was necessarily anti-oppression work. It requires our attention to the vestiges of racism, sexism, classism, queerphobia and other dehumanizing social constructs that are often baked into the very foundation of higher education practices and traditions. It requires recognition that oppressive structures appear in new ways as well such as algorithm bias and internet access disparity. DEI work requires constant examination and cultivation toward a vision of diversity, equity and inclusion as reality, accountability, and justice. That is to say I felt that we would achieve true diversity when the members of our community recognized it as the reality of existence on our planet rather than a utopia of our own creation. We would have equity when those areas of our organizations with the most resources willingly offer their institutional support to the areas that are underfunded, understaffed and under performing. We would have true inclusion when we measured the impact of these initiatives over not only short fiscal periods or student cohort cycles but lifetimes of progress and thriving.
Against the fear of being seen as someone exacting a personal vendetta, I purposely set out to tackle what research has consistently identified as priority one in the fight for equity in education – anti-racism. In the summer of 2020 that became easier to say to people but not exactly easier to get them to act on. Teatime: I was floored when a leader who added “Black Lives Matter” to his e-mail signature line got agitated with me for asking him an accountability question. Some colleagues asserted that as the only Black person on a team of instructional designers, I should have been included in the development of a university-wide anti-racism course. Who worked on it from our team you ask? Why white men, of course! Agitated. Straight up told me he didn’t have to explain his managerial choices to folks. It hurt because he had come so highly recommended as a champion of equity. And I liked him. A lot. I healed. I trusted him again, but I carried that experience forward with me as I thought about anti-racism at a brand new DEI office.
Once again, I found myself surrounded by allies who wanted me to be vocal about anti-racism. They had established an anti-racism reading and action group. They were doing the work. They wanted our campus administration to jump in with them by affirming this work with a statement. I didn’t get to see the statement go public in my time there but as I think about the number of statements, e-mail signatures and proclamations we will surely see this summer, I decided to offer this one as a possibility. I’m grateful to the people who reviewed this when I first wrote it and offered their feedback. To the allies, I wish I could be tarrying with you a while longer but…life. To my Black and brown colleagues, people will sometimes try to make you feel small. Ok, every day they will try it. I am sorry for any times when I may have been complicit in that. More tea: we are sometimes complicit in the harm of our communities within this system. We must acknowledge that to get free. I am lifting up all your accomplishments and overcoming. I am proud of all the students and colleagues healed with the balm of your presence in these spaces. Sure, you have grown doctors, lawyers, writers, teachers, and engineers in these institutions (often despite them) but most importantly you have grown humanity and dignity. Thank you. To the power players who fail up and don’t always have to reckon with the hurt you caused, learn better and do better. To the people who feel powerless because you don’t have position, work together – I am because we are.
The Little Statement That Could Have
Anti-Racism at Our College
The Board of Trustees and Leadership of Our College are committed to anti-racism at the college. This undertaking will require steady work and consistent self-examination. Our College will not tolerate hate and oppression. We will not be silent in the face of violence and discrimination of Black and other minoritized groups living in our communities. We will make it a top priority to dismantle the systems and policies that allow racism to persist.
What Anti-Racism Means
Anti-Racism is a philosophy that posits eradicating the oppression of the social construct we know as race requires work. It is not enough to assume that racism will simply disappear as time goes on. Being anti-racist means that we recognize the history and interlocking nature of racism with other forms of oppression. Therefore, we understand that it would be impossible to be anti-racist without also being against sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ageism and ableism. This approach also recognizes the danger of so-called colorblind policies and systems as well as an attitude that racism is a static personality trait. This means that the work of anti-racism is an ever-watchful look at the power dynamics and outcomes of our educational environment.
How We Will Work On This
We will develop policies and procedures that explicitly address the following areas:
- Hiring and employee retention
- Promotion and pay equity
- Development and expansion of culturally responsive curriculum
- Fund development to support minoritized students
- Regular meetings of anti-racist learning communities
- Regular meetings of other anti-oppression learning communities
- An inclusion syllabus for first year students, staff and faculty
Accomplishments will be detailed in an annual report available each October to the campus community.
Our work will be guided by research and writing both within and external to our community.
We have identified several readings and projects as guides. We recommend the Association for the Study of African American Life and History as a starting point for educational resources.