Dr. Stephanie Hawley, Ph.D. is the Associate Vice President of the Office of Equity and Inclusion at Austin Community College (ACC). She spoke at the Building Bridges conversation on September 9th about how Austin Community College has been implementing the ASPEN Institute’s “Ten Lessons for Taking Leadership on Racial Equity” through their Courageous Conversations: Beyond Diversity training for school leadership, ACC students, and the public.
The office of Equity and Inclusion at ACC focuses on equity rather than diversity. Dr. Hawley put the two terms in sharp contrast, pointing out that diversity just means that you have different people in a room, while equity means that all those different people hold power. Not only are the two words not interchangeable,but the presence of diversity does not mean that there is equity.
The Office of Equity and Inclusion at ACC uses the trainings on the Ten Lessons to create equity on campus. The trainings combine dialogue with action, educating ACC’s staff, students, and community members on how to facilitate conversations on racial equity, and how to act on those conversations.
Dr. Hawley reminded those present that ending institutional racism is a process, using the example of the recent budget for the city of Austin. She and others have observed that the Austin budget does not reflect equity, despite the fact that decision-makers have gone through diversity trainings and articulated that values such as diversity, inclusion and equity are high priorities. Dr. Hawley assessed that although many decision-makers have been through training, such values were not reflected in decisions being made or policies being developed. One training cannot create equity. Instead, ending institutional bias and disparities is an ongoing process and conversation.
The Aspen Model is trusted by ACC, as Dr. Hawley believes it encourages folks to stay in the “race conversation.” ACC is institutionalizing the values and learnings of the Aspen Model and encouraging other institutions, organizations and community stakeholders to invest in the same way. All the steps can be found here.
Step 1. Start with the facts and put them in context.
Dr. Hawley explained that the ASPEN model starts at the basic level of facts which makes it accessible. Without driving the conversation with data and facts, people often deflect or derail the discussion. For example, some start to point to factors such as socioeconomic status as reasons for inequality other than race. Others may focus on the racial injustice they have experienced, turning the dialogue into what she describes as an “oppression olympics.” Both of these outcomes polarize listeners and impede open dialogue and growth towards equity.
Facts help get participants beyond those distractions to a more salient truth about race in America: Race runs through every dimension of disparity. To illustrate her point, she gave the example of the unemployment rate in Ph.D.’s. People of color with Ph.D’s have a higher rate of unemployment, than their white counterparts, despite having the same level of education. Dr. Hawley concluded that, “as long as we can predict success or failure based on race, we have got to chase change.”
Step 2. Create safe spaces for people to talk about race and develop strategies for achieving equity.
When Dr. Hawley begins a training with participants, she defines the difference between being unsafe and feeling uncomfortable. A safe space is a place where one is physically safe from harm. Race conversations can make some feel uncomfortable, and participants can confuse that with feeling unsafe. It’s important to remind participants that they can step out of the room if they are feeling uncomfortable.
Step 3. Emphasize that today’s racial inequalities don’t depend on intentional racism.
This step is especially important because at trainings facilitators have to clarify that discussing “whiteness isn’t an attack on white people; it is about culture.” Dr. Hawley spoke about how one goal of these trainings is “to help people see what they can’t see.” Especially when it comes to decision making. The goal is to expand the lenses people use when making decisions so that they start to consider how those decisions will affect different populations.
She explained that Step 4. Counter stereotypes and bias, Step 5. Start by preaching to the choir, and Step 6. Explore contradictions, also help to expand people’s awareness of the ways that race affect people’s experiences and opportunities.
Step 7. Engage leaders with the greatest level of influence.
Dr. Hawley emphasized that step seven was one of the most important because it really gets to the heart of equity: making sure that the diversity at the table has decision making power. To that end, the president and higher level leadership at ACC have engaged in the greatest level of equity trainings.
Step 8. Help people find their roles as agents of change.
This step helps people focus on the actions an individual can take. All too often, people try to influence others and change their perceptions. Dr. Hawley pointed out that in the end, it is impossible to change others. We simply have to meet them where they are. Therefore, in step 8, the training facilitators guide participants to ask themselves, “what is my role? What can I do?”
Dr. Hawley ended the Building Bridges conversation by returning to her original point: Diversity is about representation. Equity is about power. Diversity for the photo opportunity is not enough; that is just “diversity window dressing.” Other voices have to be both heard and acted upon, and we must keep ourselves in the “race conversation” to truly make progress.