Advancing Racial Equity in the PRC by Building the Capacity of the Individuals Who Comprise It

In fall 2020, the PRC established the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee focused on developing a plan to advance racial equity in our center and its work. The Committee formed as our PRC members were grappling with the numerous injustices and violence inflicted on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, on top of the pandemic and its racially and ethnically disproportionate impact. The public health crisis and its ripple effects in education and employment has laid bare our country’s inequitable systems and institutions. At the PRC, it stirred us to act, to support one another, and examine our work through a racial equity lens.

Our committee set out to lay a foundation for advancing equity as a whole in our center. Committee co-chairs were identified along with leadership and administrative core employees to serve as members. We conducted targeted recruitment and open calls to members at PRC meetings throughout the 2020-2021 academic year to join the committee. We are made up of 13 members; 4 faculty, 6 staff, 1 faculty affiliate/partner, 1 post-doctoral fellow, and 1 graduate student. We have come a long way since we’ve started this journey almost two years ago…

Fall 2020 – spring 2021: Forming
  • We established engagement principles and a group agreement to commit to while working together, in alignment with other racial equity approaches (Forward Through Ferguson—Advancing Positive Change Toolkit; WUSTL Academy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Brown School Developing a Racial Equity Lens program, 2020-2021 led by Jewel Stafford and Atia Thurman).
  • We developed shared vocabulary and collaboratively defined racial equity, and what it would look like if racial equity is achieved for our center.
  • We identified key domains of center operations and racial equity work, and formed subcommittees focused on four of the five domains:
    • Research Methods
    • Administrative Polices & Practices
    • Learning & Mentoring
    • Communication & Dissemination
    • Accountability & Evaluation—does not currently have a subcommittee; however, accountability and transparency are documented principles of the EDI Committee and are expected in all aspects of our work
  • We worked with WUSTL’s Academy for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and conducted a committee assessment. Through this process, our committee identified the need to: 1) improve our racial equity analysis, 2) build our systems thinking abilities, and 3) deepen our understanding of PRC operations in order to develop and implement meaningful recommendations.
Summer 2021: Structuring
  • Committee members participated in a one-day intensive racial equity workshop (Crossroads Introduction to Systemic Racism) providing a consistent grounding in systemic racism and shared language.
  • We expanded our committee leadership structure; co-chairs joined with system dynamics and racial equity experts to form a core leadership team, and created a plan to build committee member and collective capabilities.
Fall 2021 – Spring 2022: Activating
Image of the timeline and components of the PRC EDI Committee's Approach to building capabilities and guiding subcommittee's work within their respective domain/focus area.

Forward Through Ferguson’s A Path to Racial Equity was the underpinning for the Committee’s 3-stream learning agenda (racial equity analysis, PRC operations, and systems thinking) and their framework also provided the structure for subcommittee efforts within their focus area (Anchor, Explore, and Recommend). Forward Through Ferguson’s framework is a tool to help people and organizations see the full path toward Racial Equity, distinguish between the different stages, and locate themselves and their projects along it (https://forwardthroughferguson.org/get-involved/pathtoracialequitytool/).

  • Monthly committee meetings served as structured time for shared learning, practice and application. Prior to each meeting, committee members completed readings or viewed videos to strengthen their racial equity analysis. Racial equity analysis topics covered included:
    • Structure of racism, history of racism
    • Racial identity development
    • Intersectionality
    • Accountability skills: Giving and receiving feedback, apologizing and making meaningful repair
    • White privilege and power, white supremacy culture
    • Understanding systemic oppression, racial equity lens
  • Subcommittees grew in their understanding of current PRC operations within their focus area and its relationship to other ecosystems (ANCHOR phase), using an adapted framework from Nicole Hudson, Assistant Vice Chancellor of the Academy for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at WUSTL. The ANCHOR-EXPLORE-RECOMMEND framework has the subcommittees first anchor their thinking in the current state of their focus area, then explore possible initiatives, before recommending initiatives that will make a meaningful difference.
  • We participated in two Group Model Building (GMB) workshops exploring the complex structure and system affecting the racial composition of the PRC to build our systems thinking capabilities, and developing a shared understanding of how structural racism is operating in our center (one full day workshop on Feb. 22, 2022, and a half-day on Mar. 28, 2022). These workshops were led by an experienced GMB and community-based system dynamics (CBSD) facilitator and a PRC graduate Research Assistant who was an MSW student specializing in System Dynamics, both grounded in social justice, with support from two MSW students with System Dynamics experience and engaged in social justice work.
  • We are working through the key insights and opportunities for action generated by these GMB workshops, and subcommittees continue with their guided efforts in their focus areas.
Summer 2022 and beyond: Strengthening and Disseminating

We’ve come a long way since fall 2020, and our work continues. We must (1) continue to deepen our systems thinking capability and racial equity analysis while (2) leveling up our application of that knowledge to the PRC by strengthening the sub-committee structure and supports, so that we can (3) begin formulating and implementing PRC policy and systems changes. The success of those changes will hinge on the buy in of more than just the committee, so the next phase of the EDI committee’s work will also focus on (4) disseminating the committee’s work to grow capability to the greater PRC ecosystem. We are eager and excited for this next juncture – and recognize the importance of embarking on this journey collectively! Stay tuned.

“The EDI Committee has been an exhilarating space for digging into the messy, heavy, and ultimately critical work of grappling with the structures and culture that impede racial equity in the PRC. Attempting to change systems in such an individual and interpersonal way has been hard but good.”

Karishma Furtado, PRC faculty affiliate/partner, EDI Committee and core leadership team member

“I decided to join the PRC EDI Committee because there is a lot of work to do in Saint Louis and the U.S. to achieve racial equity. Most of it is outside of my control, but if I’m given an opportunity at my current workplace, why not contribute? Working together to achieve racial equity is a responsibility we all should share. As a Brown/Latina and Puertorican, I sometimes struggle to understand my areas of privilege and the ones where I’m actually at a disadvantage. The training and resources provided by the EDI Committee have helped me develop the skills of speaking up when there are microaggressions or injustices. Also, it’s given me the skills needed to learn how to listen and apologize when I am the person committing a microaggression or being unfair, even if it’s not what I meant. The leadership has always been open to feedback and encouraged open and respectful conversations. Moreover, they have taken recommendations, and I’m excited to see the change we can bring to our workplace.”

Vianca Cuevas Soulette, Research Manager, EDI Committee member

Pictures from GMB Workshop 1

Image of PRC EDI committee members during Group Model Building workshop one writing their hopes and fears for the workshop and the committee's efforts.
Image of several PRC EDI committee members during Group Model Building workshop one creating a connection circle, identifying and placing key variables impacting the racial composition of the PRC and drawing connections or lines between the variables.
For image Alt Text: Image of PRC EDI committee members during Group Model Building workshop one presenting their group's causal loop diagrams connected to aspects of the model seed structure.

Pictures from GMB Workshop 2

Image of PRC EDI committee members during Group Model Building workshop two writing their reflections or edits to the model that was created by the committee in GMB workshop 1.
Image of PRC EDI committee members during Group Model Building workshop two participating in the dots activity, where participants place dots on aspects of the model in response to facilitator prompts.
Image of PRC EDI committee members during Group Model Building (GMB) workshop two participating in the dots activity, where participants place dots on aspects of the model in response to facilitator prompts.

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