Unjust treatment of our black and brown neighbors has gone unquestioned for centuries. Once again, our country is evaluating our structures and systems through an equity lens. I hear political and higher education leaders talking about removing racial bias in policies, procedures, curricula, institutions, and systems. Transitioning from an “ask” to action will require many voices and reviewers as most of leadership is blind to the bias itself. Systemic racial bias can seem innocuous to those of us who may not have been targeted to be part of the omitted or oppressed. In addition to removal of this destructive bias, institutions of higher education should also be including a broader history and context to our formal and informal learning.
As we embark on change, I believe that leadership of today and tomorrow needs to do more than just invite broad perspectives to the table; we need to encourage and listen to new opinions, seek to understand, keep the dialog going, and make real change. Responses like “try to limit your discussion of that (city or population)” or “we aren’t ready to hear that message” are the comments used to ensure silence from people with diverse opinions.
Personally, I am emboldened to listen more intently, learn more intentionally, and act more courageously.
I will listen to a broader variety of perspectives. My community (Rochester, MN) happens to be relatively diverse, which provides me with many opportunities to attend and listen. I value the work and programming of the Rochester Diversity Council, NAACP, IMAA, and Barber Shop Talk. I will increase engagement in community programming so I can listen. Only as I listen, will I begin to learn.
As a researcher and educator, I seek learning opportunities. Following this brief commentary are some resources that I have found helpful. The books, documentary, films, and readings provided me with a window to a world that is different than the one I experience. The daily fear and oppressive impacts of our society need to be addressed with thoughtful and sweeping change.
Actions should result in outcomes that are better than today. In my career, I can focus on improving diversity in student populations, faculty hires, and establishing a forum for everyone to be heard. I also believe in donating to groups that are doing work to help us create an equitable workplace and community. I would recommend we each look to our local and professional organizations to begin to implement change. I was particularly impressed by the National Association of School Psychologists that identified the following proactive steps for educators:
- Think critically about structures, systems, and policies that have historically marginalized some groups and caused long-term inequities.
- Recognize and understand the truth about racism and White privilege, and examine our own perspectives and implicit and explicit biases that contribute to perpetuating these systemic problems.
- Speak up when we see someone saying or acting harmfully to others; name it as racism when it is.
- Establish the knowledge and systems to recognize and address acute stress and trauma in students and staff who experience or are vulnerable to racism.
- Advocate for and engage in frank discussions about racism and privilege, and provide students and staff tools to combat it.
- Teach and reinforce nonviolent approaches to bringing about changes in public attitudes, policies, and behaviors.
- Model civil discourse and provide opportunities to engage children and youth in conversations that focus on common goals rather than labeling groups of people because of individual behavior.
- Examine the mechanisms of power and punishment, and work to ensure positive, equitable discipline policies and practices in every school.
- Establish and reinforce trusting relationships among students, staff, families, community providers, and law enforcement.
- Ensure that, if law enforcement is present in schools, officers are carefully selected and trained, are not involved in routine discipline, and are evaluated regularly for behaving in ways consistent with training provided by the National Association of School Resource Officers.
- Advocate for public policies that address the destructive, systemic inequities of poverty and racism.
Furthermore, as we consider students’ civic engagement, add new questions about equity and how change can be implemented at the local, state, and federal levels. There is no better time to review our state statutes for restrictive and biased language.
THIS is the time we can do real change. As for me… I have been listening. I continue to listen. I have been learning. I continue to learn. I have been acting. I continue to act.
- Between The World And Me, Ta-Nehisis Coates. (2015).
- The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas. (2017). Film Adaptation (2018).
- White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo. (2018).
- 13th. (2016). Available on Netflix or watch for free on YouTube.
- The Black Film Canon: A Video Tribute to the 50 Greatest Films by Black Directors. May 30, 2016. Swinney, Harris, & Kois.
- Girl Scouts of River Valleys Takes Action. (2020).
“There are multiple actions we can all take right now.”
- NASP Calls for Action to End Racism and Violence Against People of Color. (2020).
“We must stop this, and each of us has a role in doing so.”
- Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara: Tending to the fires here at home. (2020).
“Our country rages for a reason. A marginalized community cries out for justice for a reason.”
- Why White People Stay Silent on Racism, and What to Read First. Grant. (2020).