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College of Education

A Leadership Message for College Leadership from Michelle L. Bryan

As have many of you, the ODEI has spent the past couple of days thinking long and hard about what has been framed as the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and institutional racism, as well as what reckoning with both means for the leadership role with which our office has been tasked.  When I came to the university for my job talk, I argued that the success of our DEI work was dependent upon our ability to shift perspectives.  I raised was the difference between “diversity and inclusion” and “equity and justice”.  Drawing on Stewart’s (2017) Inside Higher Ed article, I argued that the notions of diversity and inclusion, and the notions of equity and justice, “do” different kinds of work.  While diversity and inclusion ensure that more folks have access to the table, seeking equity and justice a) holds our feet to the fire, b) demands that we enter into difficult conversations, c) expects that we critically examine our policies and practices, and d) requires that we stay with the discomfort that accompanies creating change.  In summing up her argument, Stewart asserted “We must make equity and justice the yardstick by which we measure our progress instead of merely diversity and inclusion.”


Today, I want to challenge the College’s leadership team to shift perspectives once again.  It is no longer good enough for us to talk about equity and justice in the abstract, or about inequities and disparities as if they are merely outcomes of the things that “other people” do.  We are those “other people” and what we do in this College has drastic consequences for the students on whose behalf we work and for the colleagues with whom we work.  If we are going to rise to this occasion, we are simply going to have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  We are going to have to talk not just about equity, but about racial equity and not just about justice, but racial justice.  We are going to have get into a regular practice of thinking deeply and critically about how, what we do each day, may unintentionally contribute to racism rather than challenge it.  And, we are going to have to get comfortable with terms like anti-blackness and white supremacy.


Many of us are experiencing pain and grief and sadness and frustration – specifically our black faculty, staff, and students – with which we will have to reckon in the coming weeks and months.  For now, I think the summer allows us time to do several things - the first of which is to practice empathy.  Right now, empathy looks like reaching out to the black employees we supervise to check-in with them.  It is likely that some are suffering from what is referred to in the literature as racial battle fatigue or the social and psychological stress responses brought about by the negative and racially charged experiences that people of color face in this country. Granted, many of us have spent decades dealing with racial microaggressions, racial profiling, and racial discrimination in multiple areas of our life, but we’ve spent just as much time protecting others from this pain - particularly those with whom we work - out of fear of being labeled as angry or aggressive or troublemakers or all three.  Dealing with this fatigue often results in anxiety, insomnia, stress, difficulty thinking clearly, or withdrawing emotionally and/or socially.  Combined with the additional stress around COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on black families and communities, well…it’s just a lot.  So please reach out, check in, listen, and most importantly, ask if there is anything that you can do to support them right now or lighten their load. 


While black faculty, staff, and students will have/seek opportunities to collectively reflect and make-meaning of recent events, as well as to offer advice and guidance as to how we should move forward, I would be pleased to learn that white faculty, staff, and administrators are holding similar gatherings.  I suspect that the events of the past two weeks have deeply affected you as well.  And many of you are wondering what you can do.  So it’s important that you also create a space to share your questions, your reflections, your new understandings, and your professional development plans, and to hold candid discussions about what this current moment means for you, as well as what good ally-ship can and should look like.  If these conversations are not yet occurring, please let me know how I can assist in getting them off the ground.


Importantly, we should all be prepared for, and ready to welcome, the recommendations for how the College should move forward that will likely result from these engagements.  And I look forward to sharing what we are learning with you in the coming days to explore what kinds of changes (policy and otherwise) we may need to take up, and what kinds of initiatives and projects we may need to develop if we are to truly “weave diversity, equity, access, and social justice throughout the College.”


In the ODEI, we see this inflection point as offering us important opportunities to more meaningfully engage with the students we are most closely connected to.  As such, we will be inviting the ACI and Holmes students as well as our Student Ambassadors to join us for two book studies this coming year.  In the fall, we will read So You Want to Talk About Race and in the spring, we’ll be taking up White Fragility.


And speaking of book studies, I think the second thing the summer offers us is time to educate ourselves.  In his statement, the Dean made clear that this time around the most meaningful change will come not from the efforts of folks of color, but rather from our white colleagues’ and co-workers’ efforts to deeply engage in self-education to better understand racism (particularly how it manifests as anti-blackness as well as anti-Asian racism) and perhaps, most importantly, how it manifests in policies, practices, and classrooms in higher education.  To that end, I hope that you have found some of the materials and opportunities shared in the Resource Roundup to be of value in helping you acquire the knowledge, understandings, skills sets, dispositions, and tactics that will enable you to become an effective partner in our collective efforts to advance anti-racist practices in the College. 


In addition, at the Dean’s Drop-In last Friday, I reminded folks that a key resource for you will be the Education Colleges for Justice and Equity Framework that each of you already possess and which the College adopted this past winter.  A significant amount of the work in which the College of Education must engage to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff are equipped with the necessary tools to engage in anti-racist practice, are already outlined in the Framework.  We need only adapt the guidance it offers to the specific moment and to our specific context.


In the meantime, I would be most grateful to you if you could share any initiatives or engagement that you or your office or unit are percolating that we should highlight.  And if you have ideas but need someone to bounce them off, I would be most pleased to serve in that capacity.

More soon!

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.