Staying Committed to Equity in 2021: It's in the Details - Digital Promise

Staying Committed to Equity in 2021: It’s in the Details

December 15, 2020 | By and

December invites us to step back to reflect on the events, learnings, and open questions of 2020.

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, and the resulting protests, sparked an overdue reckoning on race across the nation. Conversations about equity and racial justice within education and organizational commitments to anti-racism were ubiquitous this spring, but that momentum has stalled for many white allies. While the country yearns to put COVID-19 in the past and mourns the tragic toll it has taken, we believe that calls to go “back to normal” fail to acknowledge that systemic racism still exists and is unacceptable. We can’t afford to go “back to normal” when it comes to normalized inequities.

Achieving equity in education is not about big splashes or bursts of energy that dissipate when the next initiative comes along. Rather, it’s about taking action and making small—yet meaningful—changes on a daily basis. We’ve been intentional about taking time as an organization this year to recognize how white supremacy cultural norms show up in our practices. Below, we share some reflections on our recent Equity in the Driver’s Seat project, as well as our considerations for sustaining the commitment to equity in 2021.

Recognizing and Reducing Sense of Urgency

A sense of urgency, a dimension of white supremacy culture, is pervasive in education. As a consequence of tight timelines, comprehensive task lists, and pressure to decide and act, we fall back on routines that were designed to exclude and marginalize specific groups by historically limiting access to information and systemically inhibiting decision-making power. Rushing to get everything done now works against being inclusive and planful to achieve equitable outcomes in the long term.

For example, when we planned the Equity in the Driver’s Seat convening earlier this year, we had ideas about reaching beyond our typical networks, colleagues, and connections to include more folks whom the work touches (e.g., classroom teachers, students, parents, practitioners and researchers of color, and those with education equity expertise) as advisors, partners, presenters, and attendees. However, rather than taking the necessary time to build new relationships, the sense of urgency to send invitations and promptly establish firm plans led us to collaborate with existing connections. This urgency prevented many teachers, parents, and students, including those from historically marginalized groups, from contributing their valuable knowledge to the project.

How might we slow down—and even pause—projects, meetings, or events to re-center equity? 

  • We can extend project timelines on the front end and build in more planning time to authentically engage a more representative group of stakeholders.
  • We can experiment with embedding deliberate space and time for reflection into our work so we interrupt default methods of communicating, and assumptions about who gets to communicate first and most, to create space for those who have not been heard or who have been silenced to contribute.
  • We can include “equity pauses” (with corresponding facilitator training and support) in meeting and convening agendas to ask explicitly about equitable participation and to identify whose voices or perspectives have been taken up in the conversation and whose have not, potentially based on implicit bias. To develop these equity pauses we need to plan with voices silenced in the past, including those with context expertise on our own staff. By slowing down, we can surface instances where ideas are inadvertently overlooked in discussion due to bias.

Identifying and Preventing Paternalism

Paternalism, another aspect of white supremacy culture, occurs when decision-making is clear to those in positions of power or authority and unclear to everyone else. To uproot paternalism, we need to ask who is permitted to make decisions or have input into decisions, and understand how decisions are made. Not including individuals from groups who have historically been excluded, particularly those with lived experience of inequity in education, is unjust and perpetuates problem-solving that inadequately meets community needs.

For example, we relied on a small planning committee of researchers and Digital Promise project directors to make decisions about the Equity in the Driver’s Seat convening, including who was invited to participate, the agenda and format, and how event follow-up was structured. We should have identified the people most impacted by the challenges of inequity in education (which, in the case of this convening, were adolescent literacy and computational thinking), and included more practitioners and people from historically marginalized backgrounds in planning and making decisions.

How might we increase transparency and include people who are affected by decisions in decision-making?

  • We can collaborate with communities to identify their pressing challenges as a first step.
  • We can partner with stakeholders with a range of knowledge and lived experience to create inclusive planning committees and advisory councils (e.g., the Center for Inclusive Innovation Community Advisory Council and the new OpenSciEd Research Community).
  • When planning events, we can ask:
    • Who are we designing this for? Do we have their perspectives represented in the planning process?
    • What information is necessary and most relevant for the communities we wish to serve?
    • What formats and facilitation techniques would be most culturally affirming and engaging for attendees from historically marginalized groups?
    • How can we build trust, and offer multiple ways to engage, so that individuals with a range of knowledge and lived experience feel valued and safe to participate?
  • People with lived experience of inequity related to the substantive challenge can lead or co-lead convenings, projects, and meetings; this is possible only if we are successful in creating safety and trust that allows those with lived experiences to contribute on their own terms.

Embedding Equity into the Everyday Work

We must recognize how the many aspects of white supremacy culture manifest in our everyday routines so that we can begin to dismantle them. If going “back to normal” means refusing to acknowledge white supremacy culture, or treating equity as more of a buzzword box to be checked rather than a driver of our work, we can’t go back to normal. Because this old “normal” was defined by white supremacy, we need to redefine normal. We must focus on providing more scaffolding, modeling, and training on equity to set ourselves up for uncomfortable, yet important and action-oriented discussions. This learning journey demands persistence, determination, and humility; we’re committed to staying thoughtful and asking these tough questions each day.

Join the conversation: How are you embedding equity into your daily work? Share your #EquityReflection on Twitter and make sure to tag @DigitalPromise!

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