Notes from the VPD Anti-Racism & Equity Q&A

Last week, staff from the Office of the Vice President for Diversity hosted a Q&A session with individuals from across the university on anti-racism and equity. Participants included staff and faculty who serve on a diversity and inclusion-related committee in some capacity within their divisions or colleges. Attendees were able to submit questions prior to the session.

The Q&A session provided an opportunity for rich conversation and a robust information exchange related to enhancing anti-racism work at CSU. In order to share these resources with the broader CSU community, we have included the notes and themes from that session below.

Common Themes from Pre-Submitted Questions

  • I was wondering about your views about the balance between education and policy in the VPD’s office and the most effective way for department diversity committees to spend their time.  Also, do you have any suggestions about policies within departmental control that we should consider first?
  • What are the ways VPD recommends sustaining efforts over the longer period with teams? Also any scaffolding approaches to creating conversations for individuals at different points in their self-work would be super helpful.
  • What are some strategies to facilitate faculty/staff discussions about race and social justice? I’m specifically concerned about how to prevent/address harm while not avoiding crucial conversations.
  • How can we engage colleagues in this work and/or in these conversations when they may feel they are being forced into conversations they do not want to have at work?
  • How do we initiate and keep having conversations about diversity and especially race now that we have to do so much remotely? Trying to communicate and have dialogues about this via technology are so difficult. How do we create a safe space remotely to discuss these serious issues?

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  • How do we operationalize anti-racism work within diversity committees?
  • Are there any specific things we can start/stop/continue to do, at the department level, that would complement anti-racism efforts/resources happening across the university?
  • I’m interested in hearing how other D&I Committees across campus are incorporating or recommending systemic change in their division/college policies and practices. Are there ways we can partner and strategize together so our collective work has more impact?
  • What are best practices to partner across CSU to sustain anti-racism movements?

Q&A Discussion

The CSU community is encouraged to explore these suggestions to engage in anti-racist work and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on multiple levels:

  • What can I shift in my work as an individual?
  • What can I shift in my work on a committee?
  • How can I change the way we do things as a unit?
  • Where can I influence the University to be more anti-racist?

Challenge: Many people don’t know where to begin or how to make their work anti-racist. What can we do to make sure our committee work will effectively advance equity and anti-racist ends?

Follow the leadership of those who are already doing this work

  • Black, Indigenous, Queer and Trans people of color (especially women of color), have been leading DEI efforts for years, including at CSU.
    • Before you create another committee to start something new, see if there are already resources available your unit could support and enhance.
      • Learn about their efforts, elevate their programs, recognize and compensate them for their labor and service.
    • If you’ve previously received feedback on how to make your programs more inclusive, take that feedback seriously. Listen. Reflect. Apply what you learn. Don’t make people repeat themselves.
    • Allies can support this work in various ways:
      • Direct resources to expand these efforts (rather than just exploiting or benefitting from them)
      • Reinforce the goals of these efforts
      • Encourage others to follow existing leadership
      • Elevate and create more opportunities for leadership among people of color
      • Hold others accountable and encourage them to do all of the above

Make sure committee members are competent and equipped to address equity issues

  • Develop a critical lens on the issues by specifically focusing on equity with respect to race, gender, ability, class, etc.
    • Remember: You can’t address an issue if you don’t recognize what’s at stake. You first have to understand the problem to come up with a viable solution!
    • Before brainstorming solutions, have the committee do research on equity issues and effective approaches that are pertinent to your project or charge.
    • Consider making participation in DEI trainings a prerequisite for anyone to serve on a DEI committee.
  • Don’t let the need to educate others about equity issues at stake detract from and become the committee’s main focus.
    • If people are interested in learning more about equity, make shared learning part of how the committee functions by incorporating it into agendas and committee processes.
      • If individual committee members need additional information, encourage them to learn more outside of committee meeting time.
    • If people are reluctant to learn more or do not see the need to do so, resist making conversations about or for them.
      • Determine if it is critical for them to be on the committee.
      • If it is, do not waste time debating the issues or helping them process their own feelings. Refocus and direct discussions on the committee’s need to address existing inequities.
    • Recognize that not all opinions are equally informed or helpful to the work. Committees won’t always be made up of a table full of experts, but every committee member should be committed to this work and constantly learning.
  • Pay attention to the type of conversations you have as a committee and why. Ask things like:
    • “What could be done to remove bias and barriers from our programs and practices?”
    • “How do our existing standards, norms, and expectations uphold whiteness?”
    • “How might someone with a specific identity (based on race, gender, class, ability, sexuality, etc.) experience this conversation? This program? This suggestion?”
    • “Who would not be able to easily access our resources? What other issues or challenges might be at stake for them that we should address?”
    • “Is there language in our purpose statement or materials that code as neutral, but actually reflect exclusionary assumptions?”
  • Thoughtfully articulate what constitutes “impact,” “success,” and “progress.”
    • Anti-racist work will be successful when we center racial equity. Many folks may get lost in the need for white people to do better and become better allies or advocates. But do not be confused: this work is not primarily about making white people better. The goal of anti-racist work is to make sure people of color can thrive and be successful because we no longer perpetuate inequities of a racist institution.

Challenge: “We don’t have enough time, money, bandwidth, or resources to address equity issues.”

Addressing inequity is not a choice, option, or add-on. Attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion should be at the core of everything we are already doing with our time, money, and resources. Yes, everything.

We operate a large institution with thousands of employees and thousands more students – think of all the actions, decisions, and problems we have to solve to keep things running. If we can maintain an entire organization, we can make sure those who are most marginalized are supported.

Make DEI a central consideration regarding HOW YOU DETERMINE YOUR PRIORITIES

  • Everything could be done better. Searching for options? Focus on one thing, then do an exercise with your whole office, staff, or group. Literally sit down and go through it together.
  • Within your department or committee, identify where there is potential for creating the most impact to reach equitable ends.
    • REFORM: Shift the focus of your topics, speakers, and materials to center marginalized voices, experiences, and needs
    • RESTRUCTURE: Adjust how the entire effort is delivered to increase access and equity
      • Ask: Who benefits from this program? Who does this serve?
    • REPLACE: If the time, energy, and resources required to maintain an existing effort do not explicitly advance equity and anti-racist ends, it’s okay to start over. Put those resources to better use!
  • Repeat this exercise on every aspect of your programs, budget, or portfolio. Make it a habit.
  • Before creating and charging a new DEI committee, ask, “Who is already doing this work? Can this intervention simply be folded into how we do things?”

Make DEI a central consideration regarding HOW YOU DEDICATE YOUR BUDGET, STAFF, RESOURCES

  • If you have an existing budget, you already have money to use for advancing equity.
    • Additional funding may be restricted, but remember, DEI should not be approached as an add on.
  • Fund things that actually matter and support equitable, anti-racist ends!
    • Redirect how you use existing funds and resources.
    • Reinvest money in areas that support marginalized students and employees.
  • Make it an expectation of existing staff roles to focus on DEI as part of how they fulfill their current responsibilities.

Make DEI a central consideration regarding HOW YOU DEDICATE YOUR TIME

  • Carve out time to make DEI considerations a consistent part of your regularly scheduled meetings and conversations.
    • Distribute related articles ahead of time and discuss what you learned that can be applied to your work.
  • Allocate a portion of time each week to explicitly encourage individual and group engagement in DEI efforts. Use it to:
    • Read articles
    • Deepen relationships and build community
    • Participate in programs and trainings
    • Provide feedback on searches, council meetings, and be in touch with leadership
    • Follow up with people on DEI projects that are “in the works”
    • Offer support and see where you can help out
  • Reframe DEI work. It should not be seen as a detractor or drain on employee time and energy, but an expectation of all employees to do their jobs well and uphold our Principles of Community.

Make DEI a central consideration for HOW YOU ENGAGE IN TEACHING AND RESEARCH

  • Understand and evaluate the implications of your discipline and research agenda with respect to creating a more equitable and inclusive world.
    • How has oppression (in the form of racism, imperialism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc.) shaped the nature of my discipline? How do oppressive practices shape my research itself?
    • How have my discipline and research areas been used to justify or naturalize oppression (in the form of racism, imperialism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc.)?
    • Whose voices are underrepresented in my discipline? In what ways are “professional” or disciplinary norms, practices, assumptions, and values used as gatekeepers to exclude more diverse perspectives?
    • Do I assume diversity, equity, and inclusion are not relevant to my discipline? What am I overlooking or dismissing? Why?
  • Rework your curriculum and course syllabi.
    • Center work of those who are underrepresented in your field, including those who reflect on the nature and history of the discipline itself through a critical lens.
      • These scholars and their work are out there. Do the research to find them.
    • Include materials, examples, and case studies that help make explicit connections between the content and systems of oppression.
    • Resist the temptation to add “diverse perspectives” or “diversity issues” as an isolated unit. Instead, infuse DEI competencies into all aspects of your course: readings, assignments, assessment, learning outcomes.
    • Assess if you have inadvertently built in expectations or course requirements that may disadvantage marginalized students based on access, ability, identity, and/or resources.
    • Remember that all students in all disciplines deserve an anti-racist education.

Challenge: In order to make change, we need to know how and where to access institutional leverage points.  

Transparency increases accountability and access for community input

  • Explore how decisions are made at the University level through University Committees and Employee Councils.
    • Just like civic engagement, we can increase our levels of awareness and engagement with University entities:
      • Identify who leads them, who serves on them, what they are doing, how they identify and pursue their priorities, and which groups they engage in the process.
      • Identify the names and contact information for your Employee Council representatives – get in touch with them!
      • When concerns come up that are pertinent to University Committee charges, reach out to let them know.
    • If you are on a University Committee, be proactive.
      • Create accessible channels for communication, support, and feedback. Make it easy for others to speak up and help inform your work.
      • Reach out to campus stakeholders and those doing similar work. See if you can collaborate or support each other’s efforts.
      • Don’t think that a statement of support or solidarity is enough. Demonstrate your commitment to equity and anti-racism through the work you do. This takes time.
    • If something more needs to be done, respond with action.
      • Hold leaders accountable. Tell them to support those who are actively working to make CSU an anti-racist, equitable, and inclusive institution.
      • Coordinate with others to increase, amplify, and maximize employee feedback.
        • This is an especially important way for allies to advocate. Reduce the burden on those who are most impacted from always having to be the ones to speak up and bring attention to an issue.
        • Private and individual correspondence can be appropriate, though they may also be easier to deny and dismiss.
        • Collective and public messages can demonstrate broader support for change.

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