DEI, a journey…
Not a Destination
As some of you may know, I have spent a good deal of time this summer listening to our alumni and employees. The impetus of this listening tour came as a response to some alumni engagement through social media following the murder of George Floyd. It simply became time to listen. Since the beginning of June, I have had the privilege of hearing more than 40 voices speaking their truth about their experiences with race, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Gould.
One of my more recent conversations was with Keith Wilford who asked me when it was that I started to become aware of racial injustice. When did my own journey begin? I paused because no one had asked me about my process and I had to stop and think. I responded by saying something about my graduate work in Atlanta.
Since that conversation, I have been recalling moments of racial awareness in my life. I can recall the TV advertisement to sponsor a Brown child starving in South America and being so compelled that I used my allowance to “save her.” I remember the exact moment I first met a Black man. I was in fourth grade at the Rockland (Maine) Rec Center just after basketball practice. In middle school and high school, my best friend was the only Black student. But I don’t remember ever talking with her about race. My first year in college I took a course in Civil War Reconstruction and learned about a man named Nat Turner. I also took a poetry class and read Langston Hughes. I remember wondering how this man could put on paper what I was feeling inside? How could I feel inside what he was experiencing? How did those words on a page connect us?
I sobbed at the stark realization that I could not fix the pain of racism that separated me from Black Americans. I could not fix it. I could not heal it. I could not cry it away. I could not scream it away. I could not love it away. I could not fix it.
Later, I worked in the food service industry training employees in East Cleveland. This was the first time in my life I was the only white person for miles. Landing in Atlanta for grad school put me in my first academic environment with true diversity. My classmates at Emory were stunned that I could recall the actual moment I saw a person of color for the first time. It was in these moments and spaces meant for learning, for growth, for hard conversations, where self-reflection was encouraged and I was allowed to realize my own deep emotions around racial injustice.
I sobbed at the stark realization that I could not fix the pain of racism that separated me from Black Americans. I could not fix it. I could not heal it. I could not cry it away. I could not scream it away. I could not love it away. I could not fix it. It was the moment I referred to when I answered Keith. Because even though I had experienced and learned that my reality in life was privileged, I had yet to allow myself to feel the anger of Nat Turner. I figured out that my friends in East Cleveland were safer in my car than they were in their own, but I hadn’t figured out how to talk about that. All of those moments that informed me about racial injustice finally came racing through my mind, body, and soul when I was in that classroom in Atlanta, and I realized that I COULD NEVER FIX THIS. I could never even really understand, no matter how many POC spaces I entered, or how many books I read or taught, I couldn’t fix it. It is what I now call the “A-Ha moment of white privilege.” And that is a hard moment to live in.
When George Floyd Jr. was murdered, there was another moment. And the world demanded that moment. And Gould has responded. We are taking this moment to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter. And we need to make it more than a moment.
We have taken some action already.
- We invited Bethany Allen ’89 to lead us in an introduction to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion [DEI] work this past year.
- We added Stamped to our summer required reading and invited all employees to read or listen to the book.
- We began responding to social media comments and queries that turned into a listening tour/outreach project.
- We held an open forum for employees to come together and process the trauma of George Floyd’s murder and subsequent Black Lives Matter movement.
- We put out an open invitation to all employees and to those who had shared their voices with us to form a Task Force.
Through the momentum brought on by the need to fix this, the pain that needs an outlet, we have
- Developed a DEI curriculum for student leaders to facilitate during new student orientation
- Dedicated DEI time for employee meetings
- Designated time to facilitate dialogue around Stamped
- Acknowledged that we need to extend the invitation of this work to all employees
- Revamped some of our orientation curriculum to include an introduction to Intercultural Living
- Recognized the need for equitable affordability for on-campus costs
- Recognized the need for Affinity Groups on campus
- Determined to restart the Civil Rights Team
- Collated a Collection of Resources to support faculty in the classroom
- Pursued Research of what our peer schools are doing for DEI work
- Requested proposals from Independent Consultants
- Purposefully scheduled professional development for Employees and Trustees
- Committed to support a Coordinator of DEI work
- Committed to developing an Alumni Mentoring Network
- Committed to purposeful programming for Indigenous People’s Day and MLK Day
And yet, perhaps the most important thing we can do is continue to listen, to hear, to educate ourselves, to acknowledge, to self-reflect, and to investigate how we can do better.
I thank you for the time you took to read this. I hope that you will take your own moments to reflect on your journey of racial awareness. I invite you to write your letter and share it with me, or not. I hope that you will think about what “value statements” you would like Gould to make and, if you so choose, include that in your letter.
I thank you—employee, parent, alum, student, community member—for your leadership in this time of transition and transformation.
Respectfully and Sincerely,