Racial Equity Leadership Model Launch
In the fall of 2020, the unit hired a consultant team to guide us through an intensive change process focused around racial equity: Griffin Moore (pronouns they, them, their) and Rebecca Mintz (pronouns she, her, thers). With support from these consultants, in December 2020, Andrea sent out a division-wide email asking for volunteers to join the Racial Equity Coordinating Committee. In January 2021, the committee members came together: Pahola Capellan, Sharlene Diamond, Latiqua Washington, Michael Steele, Israt Ahmed, Lee Schere, Anthony Parrella, Laura Myers, and Andrea Soonachan.
Over the next few months, the Coordinating Committee met to discuss what we saw as the most pressing racial equity needs within K16. Through those dialogues, we set clear outcomes that we want to accomplish this year:
An important note: Because K16 leadership is aware that racism specifically has been playing out in K16 in harmful ways over the years, this process is focused on addressing racialized harm and developing a racial equity vision. That being said, we understand that all systems of oppression are connected, and we welcome the use of this process to envision a division that creates equity for all staff who hold oppressed identities.
Over the past few months, we have successfully completed our first outcome: we contracted Change Impact to host asynchronous and live learning sessions for all K16 staff members. Thank you all so much for participating in these! Through our relationships with colleagues and the Informal Racial Equity Chats that we have hosted, we understand that these sessions are already bringing up a lot for many of us. That makes sense: Racial equity work runs deep in all of us; it touches pain and hope that has coarsed through our families for literally centuries. Please know that we are with you in that intensity. We know that this work will not be perfect, that there is no such thing as perfect, and we deeply believe that we are making progress already.
Of course, we welcome any feedback that you have for us about how this work has been going so far. Please feel free to reach out to the consultants using this form. This form will be available for the duration of the process, so please use it at any time to share feedback with us. You are also welcome to contact Andrea or any member of the RE Committee.
We also acknowledge that we’re setting up this process in hopes of cultivating anti-racist leadership, and the process itself won’t get us all the way there. We will continue on this journey for many years to effectively become anti-racist leaders and staff members working toward racial equity.
ANTI-RACISM is an active process of evaluating and taking action to replace these policies, practices, structures, and interactions.
RACIAL EQUITY is our guiding vision: a possible future state in which all K-16 staff members across racial identities have what they need to thrive in their work, have fair access to organizational resources, and experience similar outcomes in terms of advancement, position, pay, and other markers of career success and employee value.
White Dominant Culture: Many of us are trained to operate in ways that keep racism and other systems of oppression in place. As a guide for exploring these ways of operating, we are basing this survey section on the “Antiracism Pivots Worksheet” that Change Impact shared with us; these were the elements listed in the column called “White Dominant Culture.” People of all racial and ethnic backgrounds can and do participate in WDC. This culture shows up as attitudes and behaviors that are considered by default to be the “right way” to operate, even when those ways of operating directly contradict our personal and/or collective values. Characteristics of WDC cause harm to ourselves and those around us, and often show up in our organizations, and in our ideas and practices of leadership specifically. We hope that by recognizing these behaviors in ourselves and others, we will be able to help create a more racially equitable workplace and model of leadership for K16.
For a more detailed explanation of WDC, and a more in-depth description of the characteristics listed below, please refer to the “Antiracism Pivots Worksheet.” Please also see the original article White Supremacy Culture,” which originated this worksheet, written by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones.
Liberatory Culture: Over the years, social justice movement leaders have started naming ways of operating that are antidotes to WDC, and that lead to equitable teams and organizations. These anti-racist ways of operating support movement towards racial and social equity. In the “Antiracism Pivots Worksheet” that Change Impact shared with us, these were the elements listed in the column called “Something Different.”
Leaders – This word can mean so many different things in different contexts. In our work this summer and fall, we will ask you questions about your experience of, and vision for, K16 “leaders.” With this word, we are focusing specifically on the University Dean, Deputy Directors, and Program Directors. That being said, we also welcome you to offer answers based on your experience with your supervisor, as well supervisors across the division, as you see fit.
While hosting these Change Impact sessions, the Coordinating Committee has been developing a plan for a participatory process through which we as an entire staff team can co-create a model for anti-racist leadership for the future of our division. We will be developing a model that applies to formal leadership, specifically the University Dean, Deputy Directors, and Program Directors. This model will also set expectations for supervisors across the division to live into anti-racist practice, as well as a culture of leadership for informal leadership roles as well. The rest of this document offers more detail about this plan.
We will start this aspect of the work by offering two ways for all of us to share with each other about our past experiences of racism and anti-racist practice in K16 leadership and management. This is a staff-driven, unit-wide initiative that provides us a collective opportunity to shape the future of our divisional culture. There are multiple ways to participate, and we’d love to hear your voice.
You are welcome to just take the survey, just come to a listening group, both, or neither. We invite you to consider your own health and wellbeing, as well as the importance of this process, as you decide how to participate. As a suggestion: If you are interested in participating in both a listening session and completing the survey, we encourage you to participate in the listening session first to generate your thinking, and then complete the survey afterward to record and submit that thinking as feels best for you.
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the listening process, we encourage you to share honestly about experiences you have had. Our leadership team, including Andrea and the Deputies, have committed to welcoming all responses non-defensively, and ensuring that those who share do not experience any negative repercussions, formal or informal, for their honesty. During the listening sessions, we will set an expectation of confidentiality, and individual survey responses will be kept private from everyone but the consultants.
During the listening phase, we will engage with these core questions:
How have you experienced or seen K16 leaders acting in ways that perpetuated racism within the division? (Can we somehow explain racism versus responsibility?)
- In the past (before the 2020-21 school year)?
- More recently (during the 2020-21 school year)?
How have you been impacted (negatively/harmed, or even positively/benefited) by racism perpetuated by K16 leaders?
In what ways have leaders already been practicing racial equity? What do they actually do as leaders to create a racially equitable workplace?
In the future: What could K16 leaders do differently to help make K16 a more racially equitable workplace?
Sign up for Listening Sessions
We will host a series of listening sessions for folks who would like to come together and share.
The intention of the listening sessions is to offer opportunities for K16 staff:
- to share about their experiences in relationship with others,
- to experience being heard as they share those experiences,
- to find themes in experiences among folks with shared identities, and
- to generate ideas for how you would like leaders to practice racial equity in the future.
We will hold these listening sessions in identity-based spaces with the intention to support everyone to share as honestly as possible. We will hold spaces based both on racial identity AND based on organizational role:
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC people) who are not supervisors
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who supervise other K16 full-time staff
White people who are not supervisors
White people who supervise other K16 full-time staff
We recognize that for some people with complex racial identities, it may be difficult to choose whether to attend spaces for BIPOC people OR white people. For these colleagues, we welcome you to choose which space to attend based on what would be most helpful for you, and even to attend one of each if you like.
Listening Session Questions
During these sessions, we will offer time for group members to share responses to these questions, and anything else that they would like to offer
- What experiences have you had of racism in the past as a result of K16 leadership?
- What are leaders doing well to promote racial equity within K16?
- Based on the stories that we’ve heard today, what ideas do you have for how you would like to see leaders practicing or creating racial equity in the future?
Participating in Listening Sessions
We are in the process of scheduling these sessions. We will be in touch soon with a link for you to see what sessions are available for folks with your identities/roles, and to sign up for the session of your choice.
In addition to the listening sessions, we will also open a survey that we can all use to share our experiences and visions.
The intention of this survey is to offer an opportunity for K16 staff:
- to document and record what they shared in the listening sessions, including both
- ways they have seen and experienced racism in leadership in the past and
- ways they’d like to see leaders practice racial equity in the future
- to record anonymously anything that couldn’t be shared in the listening sessions
- to share their input in writing if they choose not to attend listening sessions.
The deadline for completing this survey will be Friday, July 23rd.
Healing Resources will be available during this part of the process
We know that just participating in this process might bring up a lot of intense emotions for some of us. In order to care for us if intense emotions arise, we have contracted with two healing practitioners to offer support: Faith Bynoe and Amelie Zurn (see bio below).
- Healers will co-plan and co-hold sessions with facilitators. They will offer self-care practices at the beginning, offer individual support during the session if appropriate, and offer closing support at the end.
- Healers will stay on for 30 mins after the end of each 90 min session, in case anyone needs immediate support
- Healers will also offer folks the opportunity to sign up for 1 hour of individual support after the session if they choose.
- These sessions will be available for a few weeks after the listening sessions, in case things come up for folks after the fact.
Amelie Zurn, MSW/LCSW-C (she/her) A social worker & justice activist fired up for queer liberation, health & sexuality for the past 30 years. Beginning her journey as a street activist with OUT! DC, part of the National ACT-UP Movement, Amelie used her feminist health & AIDS activist tools to help grow the DC AIDS Information Line & programs for women living with HIV/AIDS. An instigator for national lesbian/ queer health organizing in the 1990s, she was the Founding Director of Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health & an early organizer with Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer. She currently serves as a psychotherapist helping predominately queer & transfolk heal from trauma, subvert oppression & build healthier lives. She facilitates workshops & conversations to build queer kinship/family, foster social justice, create mutual aid networks & embody your desires.
We welcome each of you to choose if and how you would like to participate in this part of the process. You are welcome to just take the survey, just come to a listening group, both, or neither. As a suggestion: If you are interested in participating in both a listening session and completing the survey, we encourage you to participate in the listening session first to generate your thinking, and then complete the survey afterward to record and submit that thinking as feels best for you.
In both of these venues, Andrea has articulated a strong commitment to privacy and non-retaliation. Each listening session will be held in confidence, and directors will not be present. The survey data will be 100% anonymous, and the consultants will ensure that experiences shared in writing are not recognizable as particular people before sharing with us and the Directors.
The purpose of hearing from all of us across the K16 team is to use all of that information to create an anti-racist leadership approach that leaders across the unit will be expected to align with moving forward. Here’s the process we plan to use to make that happen:
After the listening sessions and survey responses are complete, the consultants will anonymize and analyze the survey data to identify themes as well as important unique experiences of racism and anti-racist practice among leadership. Then, the Racial Equity Coordinating Committee and the consultants will meet to look at the analyzed data, to share about themes that we heard during the listening sessions, and to notice what becomes clear by seeing the survey data and listening session themes side-by-side.
From there, in the late summer, the consultants will meet with K16 Directors to share the themes that arise from the data. The consultants and Coordinating Committee members will also host a session to share themes with all staff who would like to hear what we find. In both of these feedback sessions, the consultants, Andrea, and the Committee members will listen for additional themes, interpretations, and insights about what an antiracist leadership model could look like.
Write “K16’s Approach to Anti-Racist Leadership.” This approach will lay out anti-racist values that K16 leaders will be expected to practice and visions for how we will embody those values in the future.
Create a clear set of “Anti-Racist Leadership and Supervisory Practices” that all leaders and supervisors will be expected to use moving forward. These practices will be concrete and measurable ways that leaders and supervisors will be expected to use their formal and informal power to move the unit toward becoming a racially equitable workplace.
Create a clear set of “Anti-Racist Interventions” that all staff throughout the unit, both supervisors and non-supervisory staff members, can take to address racism in the moment. These will be actions that all of us will have the ability to use, regardless of whether we hold roles with formal power or not.
Create, finalize, and launch our “Feedback and Accountability Tool” for supervisors and leaders, in order to ensure that those with formal power are using the expected practices. This tool will be woven into the annual feedback process for all supervisors and leaders.
In order to work toward these action items, here’s our work plan:
- In the next couple of weeks, Griffin and Mintz will translate the themes from the Listening Phase Report into a first draft of “K16’s Approach to Anti-Racist Leadership,” our “Anti-Racist Leadership and Supervisory Practices,” and our “Anti-Racist Interventions.” We asked our consultants to create the first draft of these documents in order to lessen the burden of work on all of us on staff, since much of this work may be as simple as translating themes from the report into visions for the future.
- This month, all staff will be invited to a Visioning Session. Our consultants will present their drafts for feedback from those staff members who attend.
- With that feedback in hand, the Coordinating Committee will finalize these tools and then work with HR to create the accompanying Feedback and Accountability Tool.
That’s what we plan to accomplish by the end of this calendar year.
As we look toward future years, we see many more ways that we want and need to address racism and work toward racial equity. We have found some ideas for future work, including:
- Finalize a formal process through which individual staff members can name and find support addressing experiences of racialized harm. Andrea and Michael have been working together to build a healing process, and we want to build on that to develop something that can be available to all staff.
- Address deeper themes that came out of the Listening Phase:
- Create/finalize commitments for hiring and promoting BIPOC staff.
- Set up a leadership development system for BIPOC staff.
If you feel inspired by this list of future initiatives, and/or if you have ideas of other initiatives that you would like to see the unit take on in 2022, we welcome you to consider joining the Racial Equity Coordinating Committee! We hope everyone understands that this work is ongoing and takes commitment from staff and upper management.
If you are interested in joining the Committee, please fill out this quick survey and we’ll get back to you when we have more information regarding the next steps. Feel free to reach out to committee members, Mintz, or Griffin if you have further questions.