Photograph of Jeanette James

Race & Equity Initiative Spring Workshops
Interview with Jeanette James, Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Projects, Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

What can you tell UW leaders about the Race & Equity Initiative workshops that are being piloted this spring?

The Race & Equity Initiative has been activefor more than a year now. We’ve engaged a lot of folks in dialogue and have been engaged by various groups, such as Black Lives Matter, all of which has helped inform the work of the Initiative. Up until this point, much of the attention has been focused on students, but now training is being piloted that will lead to the development of an anti-bias leadership program for staff and faculty.

From May through July, we’re presenting multiple sessions of three different, three-hour workshops at all three campuses, for a total of nearly 20 offerings. Our aim has been to have at least 450 staff and faculty attend, and based on how registrations have been going, I believe we’ll exceed that. In fact, many offerings are already full, but people from any campus are welcome to attend sessions at any location as space is available.

What are the workshops being offered and who is presenting them?

We have Cultural Competence: Addressing Race Relations in the 21st Century with Caprice Hollins, What I Said and What I Meant: Cross-Cultural Communication with Rosetta Lee, and Race, Bias, & Dissonance: The Intersection With Leadership, Equity, & Inclusion with Greg Taylor.
For the pilot we looked to folks who are known and well-regarded in the broader community, including people who have presented at the Seattle Race Conference and worked with local school districts or other public institutions. I’m really excited about the three facilitators we identified because they’re very closely knitted in terms of the kind of work we want to get done but also offer distinct perspectives.

Caprice Hollins thinks about cultural competence from a 21st century lens; she moves the discourse forward and elevates awareness by challenging the notion that we’re post-racial. Rosetta Lee focuses on cross-cultural communication and microaggressions. What are the things we say that come out wrong, that come out in ways that can be destructive and damaging to the culture and climate of an organization? Greg Taylor focuses on cognitive bias and dissonance; he really works with the unconscious bias framework and how that impacts decision making in hiring and how we interact and engage with people. [See Links for Leaders in this issue for upcoming workshops with space available.]

Tell me about your role and the planning process for this part of the Initiative.

Since returning to the UW and the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) in 2013, I’ve worn a variety of hats, including supporting faculty and staff affinity groups and partnering with UW Human Resources and hiring managers on staff and faculty outreach. Recently, my role transitioned to supporting strategic initiatives within OMA&D and I’ve also been really immersed in the work of the Initiative.

Within the umbrella of the Initiative we have a few different subcommittees and one is specifically around workshops and training. Gabriel Gallardo, who sits on the Race & Equity Initiative Steering Committee, serves as the lead and has really shepherded us through the process. Other members include Ujima Donalson, Kelly Edwards, Marisa Herrera, Chiara Iacoviello, Ralina Joseph, Jonathan Kanter, Jaye Sablan, Margaret Spearmon, and myself. My role on the training and workshops team has been keeping things on track as the project manager, so of course I’m excited to see our work come to fruition with the pilot.

A key thing that’s driven our work is what we’ve been hearing from folks here at the UW. Along with their regular roles at the UW, a number of team members have been involved in the various roundtable discussions and lectures hosted over the past year, and Ed Taylor, Leilani Lewis, and I have been meeting with deans across campus to hear what the needs at the school and college level are with regards race, equity, and social justice.

Through all of that work, we’ve been getting a sense of where people are and how we might be able to offer strategies and support for moving forward. For instance, we consistently hear that UW community members need to be better informed about microaggressions and need to really understand how their hidden biases impact people’s daily work, their classroom experience, and so on. Those kinds of concerns coupled with the overarching objectives of the Initiative gave us direction for how to focus the workshops. Ujima, Jonathan, and Margaret then took the lead on how to move people through that content and proposed a learning model around that.

Can you tell me more about the learning model?

The team started with a well-regarded model from the National Center for Cultural Competence and then adapted it to our needs to create a framework not just for the pilot, but for what will begin to inform the anti-bias leadership program.

According to this framework, cultural competence requires organizations to have a defined set of values and principles and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross culturally. Here at the UW, we have a foundational set of values, and the training being piloted addresses individual behaviors and attitudes, as well as effective cross-cultural communication, with the expectation that progress in these areas can help lay the groundwork for shifting the UW’s culture and climate.

The next part of the framework requires organizations to have the capacity to value diversity, conduct self-assessment, manage the dynamics of difference, acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge, and adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of communities they serve. The pilot trainings address this part of the framework on many fronts. As far as valuing diversity, there’s a real emphasis on moving away from color blindness, and the content also covers historical perspectives on how biases were constructed, our complex culture identities, and contributions made by people of color. Each workshop will also engender quite a bit of self-discovery, especially Greg’s with its focus on hidden motivations and unconscious biases. Beyond that, Rosetta, for instance, will be taking on the dynamics of difference and also looking at adapting the institution and its systems to the communities we serve.

Finally, the framework requires organizations to incorporate these elements into all aspects of policy making, administration, practice, and service delivery. All the workshops will be addressing application, be that via how bias affects decision making, discussion of best practices in a university setting, or developing a common language and increased comfort with talking about race and difference.

What do you hope to learn from the pilot?

The exciting thing about having a pilot is that we can really test our approach. Given the scope and scale of the pilot, we should get some good information around what’s working and not. We’re asking participants to evaluate the workshops at the end of class and also down the road, and their feedback will help shape future anti-bias leadership training. We’ll also be doing a robust debrief with the facilitators, so that all will help us see how the training supports where we’re trying to go.

We’re well aware that three hours is just a taste. How do you make sure that the learning sticks, is adapted, and becomes infused into people’s work—because moving people forward in terms of behavior change is key to helping achieve our institutional and systemic goals.

Who is the target audience for the workshops?

The workshops are geared towards all staff and faculty, no matter their role or position. Our ideal participant is anyone interested in developing their leadership capacity in the areas being addressed. The hope is that leaders will attend and will also support their employees’ participation.

At this stage, the training is really about deepening people’s individual learning, which of course will enrich our entire institution. Faculty are welcome to come to these pilot workshops for their own growth, and then down the road we hope to be able to address pedagogy and dive into the needs of different disciplines.

What can leaders and their staff members expect to see over the next year?

Members of the UW community can expect to see an expanding and multi-pronged approach to training that we hope will ultimately make deep roots.

An additional thing that we’re doing is workshops for the Race & Equity facilitators that have a dual focus of building content expertise and facilitation skills. We have a number of great facilitators already, and they’ve been helping us with our dialogues with students and with facilitating roundtable discussions. The goal is to keep building a team of facilitators that could, for instance, be drawn from to help at an event or to facilitate a conversation within a college or other settings such as campus housing or social groups.

We are also keenly interested in supporting faculty and the various schools and colleges. Faculty are charged not only with fostering inclusive spaces, they also develop curricula and teach our students who then go out into the world to pursue their various disciplines or fields. The Center for Teaching and Learning provides phenomenal support in this front and we hope to connect with them on how to offer even more opportunities for faculty.

For every discipline, I can think of a scenario where equity, diversity and inclusion, and social justice really matters; the challenge is to help other people see what that might look like. Research tells us, for instance, that in health care and health sciences, the way that health-care professionals interact with diverse clients and the way unconscious bias plays out can create disparities in treatment and sometimes in outcomes. If we’re talking about engineering or urban planning, we should also be talking about gentrification and impacts on communities of color. If we’re in the College of the Environment, we’ve got to talk about the waste treatment facilities or landfills that are placed in communities of color or poor communities as opposed to wealthier communities.

Those of us who work in higher education, we’re here and we’re staying here, but we must remember that we’re sending students out into the world. We’re responsible for making sure they graduate very knowledgeable, very responsible, very aware of impact, and very aware of how the decisions they make are going to have longstanding impacts and outcomes for those they serve.

What do you, personally, see as the future of race and equity at the UW?

As far as the future, in my view you never truly get “there.” The things that I might have asked for when I was in college are really different from what students are asking for today. Institutions have done a good job of saying, okay, we’ll let you in but you have to adapt to the norms that we’ve set. For today’s students, that’s not good enough. They want organizations to be responsive and reflective of what their needs are, and I think that’s an appropriate ask.

I feel we never fully achieve; we’re never fully knowledgeable about all issues related to equity, justice, and inclusion. It’s elastic. As soon as we kind of get there, the band is going to go out further, and we’ve got to keep deepening and expanding our knowledge further and further. For me, it’s recognizing that the “there” is always going to be a little further out, and we have to be flexible and expandable enough to recognize that, to adapt, and to do our best to keep growing.

Spring 2016 | Return to Issue Home