A Statement on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity
Providing students tools and practices to set them up for success in the 21st Century while striving to ensure all students feel a sense of belonging where they can thrive both academically and personally. Within this context, prioritizing diversity and inclusion at the core of our education structures is more important than ever and requires commitment from all of us, not just those who identify personally with underrepresented communities. As allies who work in diversity and inclusion, how can we maximize our contributions within this complicated landscape where “political-correctness” often impedes honest interactions? For someone like me whose background comes with a significant amount of historical, societal privileges — cisgender, white, U.S citizen, not currently disabled and graduate -level educated– what aspects and approaches should I be thinking about in order to effectively engage in diversity and inclusion work? Furthermore, is whether or not a middle-class white woman should even be engaged in diversity and inclusion work?
In short, my answer is “yes…but, not always”. Silence supports the way things are, and I’m deeply committed to helping change that. Working as an ally alongside colleagues from underrepresented communities to advance equity and social justice requires a degree of self-awareness and humility. I have had significant personal and professional experiences engaging with diverse communities that have contributed to my current principles and perspectives. These experiences, in many ways, reinforce my commitment to equity, social justice, confronting structural oppression, and cultivating empathy. They do not, however, allow me to understand from the perspective of individuals who belong to these often-overlooked communities, such as people of color or LGBTQI+ individuals, etc. For me, this is an essential distinction.
In truth, I’ve spent most of my life working within systems and structures that elevate my voice and experiences at the expense of others. As an artist who is part of the ever-growing, ever-changing community of learners and makers I humbly situate myself within an anti-oppression framework of artistic and community practice.
Ways I envision those practices to be employed are:
- Listening to and holding each other up, particularly the voices of those who are affected by systems of oppression;
- Being actively aware of the intent and implications of our words, actions, and art;
- Being actively aware of how much space we take in a conversational/collaborative environment;
- Asking for and strictly respecting each other’s pronouns;
- Asking for and strictly respecting each other’s personal boundaries and statements of consent both explicit and non-explicit;
- Respecting the confidentiality of our conversations and spaces, and asking before sharing outside of them;
- Rigorously questioning and exploring our artistic work within this framework;
- Holding ourselves and each other accountable, to the best of our respective abilities and with as much love and generosity as we can respectively muster;
- And Caring for ourselves and each other.
Dialogue, discussion and reflection are some of the tools through which we overcome oppressive attitudes, behaviors and situations in our groups. In the classroom I find guidelines are a helpful reminder for us to remain present and open-minded such as:
ONE DIVA, ONE MIC
Please, one person speaks at a time. (It can also be useful to ask people to leave a few moments in between speakers, for those who need more time to process words, or are less comfortable interjecting in a conversation.)
NO ONE KNOWS EVERYTHING; TOGETHER WE KNOW A LOT
In any conversation, especially ones about systemic power (race, class, gender, etc), we know that each person is coming to the conversation with different levels of lived experience and embodied expertise. We also believe that each person has something to contribute to the conversation. This agreement asks that we all practice being humble and look for what we have to learn from each person in the room. It asks us to share what we know, as well as our questions, so that others may learn from us.
MOVE UP, MOVE UP
If you’re someone who tends to not speak a lot, please move up into a role of speaking more. If you tend to speak a lot, please move up into a role of listening more. This is a twist on the more commonly heard “step up, step back.” The “up/up” confirms that in both experiences, growth is happening. (You don’t go “back” by learning to be a better listener. In fact, listening is a frequently feminized skill that is often seen as a lack of something. On the contrary, choosing to learn how to listen moves both you and the group up.) Saying “move” instead of “step” recognizes that not everyone can take steps, while we can all move in body or spirit.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INTENT AND IMPACT
We have noticed that most often in the spaces we facilitate, when someone does or says something that causes harm or supports the values of oppressive systems, it is not their intention to do so. But when we use our good intentions to deny (or avoid being accountable for) the harm, more harm is caused. The ask in this community agreement is that we each do the work to acknowledge that our intent and the impact of our actions are two different things, and to take responsibility for any negative impact we have. (This can be as simple as apologizing.)
I recognize that our world is built on internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and ideological systems that exist to exclude, oppress, and self-perpetuate by any means necessary. These systems include, but are not limited to: racism, sexism, trans-misogyny/transphobia, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism, xenophobia, fatphobia, neo-colonialism, and countless intersections of the above.
I commit to illuminating and working against these systems within myself, my teaching practice, and my community through my thoughts, words, and actions. While I accept and anticipate that I will make mistakes, struggle with imperfection, and most importantly, not let those moments stop me from pursuing radical inclusion, enthusiastic community building, and collective liberation as an artist, educator, and as a fellow human being.