Dream Project

May 2, 2018

Professional Development Workshop Reflections

by Aric Rininger

PDW Reflections

The more impossible something seems, the more important it is that we do it. These were some of the parting words Dream Project leadership received this March at our race and equity workshop, led by Bernardo Ruiz of the Racing to Equity consulting group. Bernardo is the former Director of the School Family Partnerships, Equity & Race Relations and Native American Education Departments for Seattle Public Schools. Now he lends his experience and training to organizations striving to create a more equitable environment. Originally from Mexico, Bernardo shared his realizations—from childhood to adulthood—on how his ethnicity and nationality shaped his treatment in the United States, both a student and an educator. Bernardo stressed the importance of understanding our own stories. We spent the day reflecting on and sharing how our own identities shaped our lives as students, professionals and everyday people.


In my career, I have had plenty of opportunities for discussions on race and equity. I can count, on less than one hand, the workshops that created an environment in which I could share my own experiences instead of filter them for the comfort of others. This conversation made it feel easy and generated (for my group among the discussion) a dialogue that helped me understand myself a bit better. I can’t help but think a large part of this is due to the Dream Project community itself, but Bernardo’s facilitation was also very helpful.


Pieces of Bernardo’s story resonated with me deeply. As a student, it was often hard to grab the attention of teachers or to be recognized for my potential. My race, ethnicity and income level bring with it a powerful story, rooted not in my own personal, individual qualities, but (largely) in harmful stereotypes. Expectations for students ‘like me’ were far lower, as was the effort invested in our education. I learned, from an early age, that a brown-skinned scholar is often seen as something of a paradox. This has been a strong theme in my life, both in the public schooling of my childhood and in my professional development as a scientist. It’s hard not to feel that who I am has largely been invisible to teachers, bosses and mentors. Most guidance I receive is rooted in the assumption of what I don’t have or what I am incapable of, instead of my own strengths, passions or desires. Because of this, people who are meant to be a source of support are often just another obstacle. When asked to consider how these assumptive stories of identity have affected my professional development, I realized fully—for the first time—that my strategy for navigating the extensive exclusion that people of color face was to be as invisible to teachers and mentors as they have made me feel.


In terribly exclusive environments, such as higher education, it’s easy to feel alone. And, in feeling alone, it’s even easier to believe that positive change is impossible. It’s this impossibility that underscores the importance of not being invisible when it comes to standing up for racial equity. Dream Project leadership was urged to remember that it is through collaborative spaces and many different minds thinking together that solutions to racial equity problems begin to form. In respect of the honest, earnest conversations we had in March, I think it is important to remember that my reflections are the result of only one voice and one perspective. With that in mind, we will be continuing these reflections on the Dream Project blog (https://www.washington.edu/dreamproject/category/blog/), from other leaders present in the conversation.