Race & Equity Initiative

October 24, 2017

The Hard Work is Just Beginning: Advancement Equity Team confronts institutional racism, white privilege, bias, and more

By Glenn Hare

Since the spring of 2017, a dedicated group of UW Advancement employees has been meeting to confront racism head on. The members of the UA Equity Team meet to uncover the history of racism in America, to examine personal bias, to better understand institutional racism, and to grapple with white privilege.

“These are tough and, sometimes, raw subjects,” says Jan Harrison, one of the group’s facilitators and ARCS Equity Team 1Foundation Liaison and Director of Diversity Stewardship at the Graduate School. “But our aim is to reveal why race is still an issue in America and why we should care about it.”

Working in concert with the University’s Race & Equity Initiative, the new team comprises volunteers from across campus and has met six times since launching this spring. Meeting during their lunchbreak, the group is committed to incorporating methods and techniques that will improve and sustain diversity and equity on campus and in their lives.

“During the election season, a lot of important issues and questions around race and equity began to emerge. I realized that I lacked a lot of knowledge about these topics and struggled to find answers. I was excited that Advancement was offering a way for me to learn and, hopefully, make a difference in the world and at UW,” says Krista Berg, an Advancement Prospect Management Strategist.

Participants are focused on the key areas of the initiative: confronting individual bias and racism, transforming institutional policies and practices, and accelerating systemic change.

We know these are lofty goals. We know there are no easy answers. We know there are no quick fixes. We’re committed to doing the hard work and striving to make them the new norm in Advancement.
— Christina Chang, Assistant VP, Finance and Talent Management, University Advancement

From the beginning, the planners knew this was a heavy lift for all involved. So they developed a framework to foster authentic, honest, and confidential dialogue. “We’re not talking at them,” says Harrison. “This is safe space where we can have open and frank conversations so that we can move beyond the rhetoric.”

“We knew this was the only way to move towards internalizing, learning, and acting,” adds Seija Emerson, an Advancement Human Resources Coordinator and Equity Team organizer. “One of the biggest challenges we face is the notion that this is a type of professional development that can be checked off once finished. We strive to go beyond just making the participants feel good about themselves. We want to show ways to affect change.”

The first meetings involved deep probes into the history of racism in America—the history that examines the how race has shaped the country. They’ve also examined the hierarchy of race and investigated how America transformed from a society with slaves into a slave society and how that transformation shapes our institutions.

And at each meeting they contemporize the topics, connecting the facts and history to current events.

“Jan Harrison, Director, ARCS Foundation Liaison & Diversity Stewardship, PROV: Graduate School. Photo: University Marketing & Communications.

Jan Harrison, Director, ARCS Foundation Liaison & Diversity Stewardship, Graduate School

By taking incremental steps, the group is gaining knowledge about the ongoing narrative of race and white privilege in this country.

The discussions and exercises are showing results. “I’ve become even more aware of the different areas where more latent forms of racism and stereotyping have an effect,” says team member Joseph Sherman, a Major Gifts Officer at the Foster School of Business. “I’ve always known that institutional racism existed here at the UW, but seeing more examples of how it exists allow us to be more effective in addressing it.”

A post-seminar survey revealed overwhelming support for the training and a desire among staff members for additional training. “That’s when we realized that we had do to something. We had to provide an opportunity for deeper understanding,” Chang says. “We asked Jan to help guide our efforts. We’re so glad she’s jumped in with both feet.”

Trained as a critical race scholar, Harrison’s interests in social justice, equity, and social altruism were kindled by the power of her mother’s words. “She had the ability to weave narratives about self-love, self-confidence, family history, Black American philanthropy, and racism into meaningful life lessons.” Those stories fostered Harrison’s awareness, understanding and pride in being a Black American.

Though 13 percent of Advancement employees are persons of color—a percentage well above the national average of 9 percent—the ethnic makeup is very narrow. “We’re overwhelmingly white, Asian and women,” says Chang. “Diversifying our numbers is an ongoing process.”

Christina Chang, Assistant VP, Finance and Talent Management, PRES: University Advancement

Christina Chang, Assistant VP, Finance and Talent Management, University Advancement

The team’s efforts have sparked interests from other colleges and universities, seeking solutions to diversity and equity. Next spring, Chang will co-chair the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Diversity in Philanthropy Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. In addition, Harrison and Emerson will present on the formation of an Equity Team, a session chronicling the team’s inception along with best practices they’ve discovered along the way.

“We’ve been recognized as an advancement unit in higher education that cares about diversity and is doing something about it,” Chang says. Accolades aside, Chang, Emerson and Harrison are aware of the challenges the team must still tackle. Goals include increasing participatio and raising the number of men and people of color in the group. The number of attendees has steadily increased; they’d love to double the people attending the monthly meetings.


Seija Emerson, HR Coordinator, UA: F&A Recruiting Admin

The harder challenge is handling questions like, “What’s keeping individuals from knowing the experiences of black and brown people in this country and moving beyond willful blindness?” Emerson adds.

“This is grassroots work, addressing one person at a time,” says Harrison. “Then when that person has the opportunity to address diversity and equity with colleagues, friends, and family they’ll speak out.”

For at least one participant, the exposure is changing her perspective. “I’m starting to see the ways I’ve been complicit. I’m much more conscience of my own biases,” says Berg. “The Equity Team is helping me confront these biases and learn to change them.”

The Equity Team Book Club

An offshoot of their meetings is the formation of a book club. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” was discussed in September. Published in the early 1950s the book is an important part of the African-American literary canon. “But I’ve never read it,” declares Chang, “because it’s not part of the white canon.”

The next meeting is Wednesday, December 6 at 5:30pm at Tavern12 to discuss The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. For more information about future book club meetings, contact Krista Berg (kas7686@uw.edu).


Fall UW Equity Team Schedule

Monday, Nov. 6, noon-1:30 p.m., UW Tower

Monday, Dec. 4, noon-1;30 p.m., UW Tower

Contact Christina Chang (czchang@uw.edu), Seija Emerson (see3@uw.edu) or Jan Harrison (jh27@uw.edu) for more information.