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Turning the Gaze on Our Institution

I have been thinking about an important move we have made at Warner. Our Diversity and Inclusion Committee members Donna Harris, Stephanie Waterman, Pia Bunton, Susan Hetherington, Mark Washburn, and I have shifted from working on ways to “help” people of color (staff, students and faculty) feel welcome, supported, comfortable etc., to examining the ways that Warner as an institution and community is complicit in what many label institutional racism (I am hedging a bit, because racism is not the only source of exclusion). I see this as an important shift because it turns our gaze away from a patronizing stance toward “those people” to relations of power and structures of institutions. It is also a way to move toward a point of view and practices that highlight the important resources available in a community that is diverse along many dimensions. This is not to be seen, I hope, as a colonizing move, but an inclusive one that seeks to view diversity as an expansion of the strengths of our School.

In practical terms, we have read about white privilege and convened meetings of students, faculty and staff (both separately and together) to address practices and structures we have in place that work against our commitments to diversity and inclusion. Those conversations opened up many Pandora’s boxes and have pushed our community and committee to follow through on what we have started. These are not easy issues and history matters in this work. However, I think this is a productive turn and am hopeful that as we do try to follow through, the conflicts and tensions that inevitably arise will help us become better.

A question that I would pose, then, is how such work can be shared across units at the University. Warner’s committee certainly has ideas for this, but I’m posing the question to invite conversation. Beyond being a “welcoming” community (a somewhat benign term), what structural impediments can we identify and change?

Nancy Ares
Faculty Diversity Officer
Associate Professor Teaching and Curriculum

Comments

Comment from Joyce McDonough
Time: January 26, 2009, 7:50 am

Hi Nancy,
Thank you for your comments. An issue that doesn’t seem to get much press is the problem of what it is like to be a minority in a larger group. When I look around, one thing stands out prominently: that we spotlight people. We ask minorities, whoever they are, students, faculty, staff, to take on rather imposing responsibilities. We ask them to lead, not with their personal identity, but with their identity of type. It’s not a small problem. If you belong to a majority group, you get to make mistakes in relative obscurity. You have around you lots of people who share your social, intellectual and cultural ticks. Not so, if you don’t belong to this group, we all know that.
I think this plays out in the intellectual realm on campus in difficult ways. The fullest dialogue we have on this right now is the ‘family friendly policy’ issue. I’m assuming ‘family friendly’ means we agree to give room to people who have compelling obligations outside their academic ones, acknowledging that there are pressures on people that impede their progress through the academy. But what if the thing that is impeding your progress is your need to be continually addressing, or building, a context for your intellectual life on campus? I don’t mean scholarship alone, but a context for the intellectual life we all assume comes with being faculty. What kind of support does a person who walks in with a different cultural background need to build an intellectual life, especially if we are asking that person to help us solve a lack of diversity? I mean, a lack of there being not enough of who they are and how they think?

I don’t have any answers, I don’t even have the good questions. Doing some serious listening and finding the good questions seems to me to be more important than finding answers.

Joyce McDonough
Linguistics

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