Events Op-Ed

Reflections on Equity: FJL Takes on the Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge

Making time for reflection in our busy lives can be difficult. In April 2018, Friedman’s Committee on Social Justice, Inclusion, and Diversity (CSJID) invited the school to do just that by participating in a 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. Students from the Friedman Justice League (FJL) reflect on what they felt and learned during the challenge, and on the implications of these learnings for the school’s community.

In an effort to foster a stronger culture of inclusion, the Committee on Social Justice, Inclusion, and Diversity (CSJID) invited the entire Friedman community to participate in Food Solutions New England’s (FSNE) 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. The CSJID is a multidisciplinary committee of faculty, students, and staff of Friedman committed to finding ways to promote social justice, inclusion and diversity in its teaching, research, and programs. The three-week challenge took place from April 2 to April 23 and creates time and space for a community to come together to build better social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, power, privilege, and leadership. These habits range from the personal, such as identifying and deconstructing our own biases, to the institutional, where we think through ways to advance racial justice in our schools and organizations.

To complement the challenge, the CSJID also hosted three informal lunchtime chats every Tuesday to encourage us to find community and connect with each other as we attempt to identify ways we can personally work to dismantle racism and become leaders for a more just, equitable food system.

During the lunchtime meetings, faculty, students and staff of Friedman gathered to share their personal responses to the 21-day challenge, and mull on some of the awkwardness of living out one’s conviction here at the Friedman School, and beyond. Thinking critically about our own biases and race is difficult, but necessary, and having a community of support helps.

Below are the reflections of several members of the Friedman Justice League (FJL) who participated in the challenge. Each one serves as a peek into the diversity of reactions the challenge inspired in the Friedman community. We hope these reflections help others find solidarity through their own process of discovery.

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Conversations on race and racism with people of backgrounds different than my own often leave me with a pit in my stomach. I think and rethink about what I said, how I said it, what I should have said, whether I unintentionally offended someone… I tend to get worked up during these conversations, and approaching them with grace is an artform that has thus far eluded me.

As a Latina female that grew up in a low-income neighborhood, I feel a unique responsibility to ‘shake things up’ and ask the hard questions. I struggle with striking the delicate balance between getting my genuine thoughts across and being considerate of people’s different experiences.

The most enriching part of the challenge for me were the lunchtime conversations. Each conversation created a platform for us to ask hard questions in a welcoming environment. We talked about the “micro” and the “macro,” our personal experiences with race and racism and how they impact the entire food supply chain. I tried (not always successfully) to listen, to be thoughtful, and to approach these conversations with empathy and an open mind. Reflecting on these difficult conversations was uncomfortable and hard, which requires immense vulnerability. I deeply believe that venturing out of our comfort zone to talk about these things is the first step to building bridges and creating an equitable food system. I am grateful for the opportunity to try.

– Alejandra Cabrera, NICBC ‘18

 

Growing up in a Latinx household, we often had discussions about culture, race, and social justice. Throughout my educational career I have sought out spaces to continue to have these important conversations. Being involved in FJL and the CSJID has allowed me to take an active role in promoting equity at Friedman and our food system. Participating in the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge was a great way to reflect each day about how I can be more intentional about addressing these issues both personally and professionally.

One important topic that came up during the challenge was how to build our own capacity for discomfort. We have to become comfortable with discomfort in order to push our growing-edge and transform as human beings. These conversations about race are not easy, but if we approach them with humanity and understanding they can be extremely powerful. I was able to attend the last lunchtime chat. It was wonderful to speak with people of the Friedman community, including professors, staff and fellow students, and share our experiences with race, power and privilege. We all come from different backgrounds and perspectives, but we all had a common desire to connect and shed light on the injustices that exist in our world.

– Alyssa Melendez, AFE ‘19

 

Two of the anecdotes from the 21-Day Challenge ended up being the most impactful for me.

  1. A woman’s young, black niece who straightens her dark curly hair and then runs to her aunt delighted because now she finally looks like a princess. The aunt’s narrative and reflections on this story helped me come up with a couple questions: Who created a given standard, system or object? What demographic do they represent? Were the implications for equity and racial justice considered? Why do I think certain things are beautiful or good? What and who does that beauty represent? Who does this beauty value and who does it erase? I think these questions can be used as a frame of analysis to help identify some of the ways in which everyday assumptions uphold white privilege and to uncover personal, implicit biases.
  2. In her soil-health analogy, Camara Jones’ compared the nutrients in the soil to the “nutrients”, or access goods, services, and opportunities, in a society. Communities and institutions that both historically had and currently still have fewer “nutrients” continue to produce and reproduce disproportionate outcomes for people of color, along the lines of education, health, home ownership and employment. The analogy was clear, relevant to Friedman, and worth a watch!

In reflecting on Friedman Justice League’s Lunch n Learns and the work we’ve done this year, I realize that conversations with professors and faculty have been quite fruitful and enjoyable. However, we might not even be at that stage yet. Perhaps more structural work needs to be done to establish a more supportive foundation for individual actors to make an impact – for individual professors to adjust their curriculum, for example.

I think a very productive collaboration between the CSJID and FJL next year could be to use the “Assessing our organization” assessment tool from Day 10 to “check our readiness to move a racial justice agenda forward”.

– Tessa Salzman, AFE/UEP ‘18

 

Especially at this hectic time in the semester, I was grateful just to enjoy conversation and hear from more personal reflections from the Friedman community . The common ground between faculty, staff and students felt like a safe, exploratory to celebrate, lament, even confess. Even when we’re trying to do our best — we’re all human — it’s a process.

– Julie Kurtz, AFE/MPH ‘18

 

An unspoken justification for not working to improve equity at a given organization is that the people don’t have the time, resources or knowledge to lead this effort. The Friedman Justice League has asked ourselves this question: How do we start without a clear path forward? The resources from Day 10 provided a practical, approachable first step: an assessment of where we currently stand as a collective way to acknowledge our existing progress and our future potential.


The Friedman Justice League seeks to make our community more diverse and find ways to allow the Friedman community to better address issues of discrimination and oppression in its teachings, research, and programs.

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