Taking a team-based approach to anti-racism work

As director of the office that organizes the Thomas L. Hill Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity (ISCORE) and coordinates the university's annual delegation to the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE), Japannah Kellogg knows the importance of converting education into action.  

To help participants prepare for those conferences and build on momentum after the fact, the NCORE-ISCORE office offers a professional development action plan, a modified version of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching's individual action plan for an inclusive classroom. It's a tool for building a personalized anti-racism plan.

"We often want to do better, but we rarely know how. That's where having a framework is critical," Kellogg said. "It gives you a way to hold yourself accountable."

That can work at an individual level or for a group. In a preconference ISCORE presentation last month, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) staff talked about how they have used the template to create and maintain an officewide anti-racism plan.

Making a plan

As Black Lives Matter protests became widespread this summer in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, WISE staff collectively agreed they wanted to become more intentional about combating racism. They organized a book club to read Ibram X. Kendi's "How to Be an Antiracist" and invited other units in the provost's office to join them. The idea to create an anti-racism plan for the office sprang from the book club discussion.

"We were trying to find ways to implement in our work what we were learning and unlearning," said Alicia Herron-Martinez, a WISE program specialist for leadership and professional development.

The process took several months and began with the staff creating their own personal plans. The two-page action plan template has sections for identifying opportunities to promote diversity, equity and inclusion; possible barriers and strategies to overcome them; who could provide support; and action items to take, along with the resources needed and a timeline.

From there, staff compared their plans and found common themes. The officewide plan calls for more purposeful inclusivity in WISE marketing, events and programs, which has brought changes to its website and events like the Go Further conference. It also encourages ongoing education opportunities and taking time in staff meetings to discuss personal and group anti-racism efforts -- both highlights and stumbles.

"I think that centers the work so it doesn't get forgotten," Herron-Martinez said.

Beyond the specific provisions of the plan, merely creating it has made a difference, said Yamille Perez, a WISE program specialist for outreach and recruitment. Conversations about representation are more common than when she began working at WISE 18 months ago.

"It comes into play for every decision we're making," Perez said. "It's much more top of mind."

Staff will regularly revisit the plan, which was put in place last fall but remains a work in progress, said Carly Miller, a WISE program specialist for marketing and communications.

"We're continually learning and growing. It's not just a one-and-done type of topic," Miller said.

Getting started

WISE staff said they've had numerous colleagues outside their office ask them for tips on how to assemble a similar plan in their unit. In part, WISE was fortunate because there was no need to convince anyone on the seven-person team of the merits of drafting an anti-racism plan. 

"We were all on board to read the book. We were all on board to create the plan. And we're all on board to do the work," Perez said.

Their advice for employees interested in starting the process is to begin with themselves. "An individual can do a plan without anybody else involved. Everyone has their own power to create their own plan," Miller said.

The ownership that comes with self-generating an action plan is a key part of what makes them effective, Kellogg said.

"We don't collect them. You don't turn them in for a score," he said. "If we gave everyone a completed action plan, it would fall short."

A group conversation

For units or departments that are interested in approaching anti-racism work as a group, there is another option offered by the NCORE-ISCORE office. In the "Expert of My Experience" series, a team participates in an activity revolving around anti-racism, and assistant director Jowelle Mitchell moderates a post-event discussion. The first two installments -- with the provost's office and dean of students office -- followed "How to Be an Antiracist" book clubs, but many other activities could work, Mitchell said.

"It gives a platform for people to say it out loud, to debrief as a group about what that experience was like and what it meant for them," she said.

The panel discussions are designed to apply the information learned in the activities to people's own lives. They're also meant to demonstrate for faculty and staff ideas they could use in their offices.

"Anti-racism work isn't easy. When you don't know where to start, seeing what someone else is doing can help move the needle," Mitchell said.

To inquire about having an "Expert of My Experience" event for your unit or department, contact Mitchell at jowelle@iastate.edu or 294-8731 with an idea for the activity and the goal the team has for participating.