Manifesto for Fighting for Systemic Change…and Racism

Reflection, the one constant in my learning process continues to be the foundation upon which I learn, create, and evaluate my experiences. It contributes to my growth and development as a leader and advocate in the fight for systemic change. “In this country race has defined individual identities, opportunities, frames of reference, and relationships. Where race has been of historical importance and continues to play a significant role, racial group membership often serves as a political proxy for shared experience and common interest (Guinier, pg.215).” [1] Taken from my doctoral dissertation (2008), I presented literature regarding the construct of race and its role in the United States. Today, this statement continues to resonate as I engage in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging work by spotlighting the role of race and racism in the United States. At its core, the construct of race, remains a barrier to opportunity as well as reconciliation, ultimately impeding the progress towards the healing this nation so desperately needs.

As an advocate for others, I understand change happens by direct involvement in matters that impact the well-being of society. My appreciation for and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are the products of my lived experiences. These lived experiences, showcased via the intersection of identities I wear proudly came alive as a participant in this course-“Designing Courageous Conversations for Impact (DCCI)”. With that in mind, I offer the following to those who are interested in the work of “systemic change”. When I contemplate how change happens, I am drawn to what I believe are most essential in correcting any form of systemic change: 1) Voice, 2) Mind, 3) Relationship Building, and 4) Stamina.

The DCCI course gave me a sense of fearlessness when it came to exploring and sharing my voice as a black woman, an advocate, and former female administrator at Stanford. I cannot recall when I have felt so free, so comfortable and confident to share my lived experiences relating to identity, power, privilege, race, inclusion, and belonging without fearing retaliation or shame. DCCI gave me a sense of purpose again.

Along with an established strong voice, a strong enough mind to withstand the barrage of “No’s” as well as backlash from those who disagree with your views and or what you stand for will be pivotal. Your mind has to be strong enough to process the value of what you know to be true and stand firm in your beliefs of what is fair and just. Educating yourself about the issues you value through various mediums including dialogue with those of opposite viewpoints is vital.

Fighting to right systemic racism and other “isms”, there is nothing more I treasure than the ability to build relationships. Relationship building is the foundation to “systemic change” work. When reflecting on the current framework of our design project, Pivot and what it can become in the future, I know relationship building and the sustainability of those relationships will determine whether Pivot will morph into an integral piece of Stanford’s culture or lie dormant.

Lastly, what I would share with others considering stepping into the world of “systemic change” work is to be sure you have the stamina to endure. Yes, stamina! It takes time for change and impact to happen especially when something matters to you. Attempting to reach desired results without allowing time for the “process” will surely result in setbacks. Taking time to sit in the process provides opportunities to self-assess on the goal (s) at hand, and more importantly, on how the individual is embracing the learning that is unfolding.

Early in my teaching career, I modified an assessment tool for my undergraduate students that I learned as an AmeriCorps Leader to measure project success. The tool examined three dimensions: Process, Relationships, and Results. The focus of the tool was understanding that not one element is capable of operating in a vacuum, but in concert with the other to reach project success. So often we want to engage in only one or maybe two of the dimensions, but we need them all. In systemic change work, I learned to respect each element and the value brought forth by each to successfully achieve change. I also learned, to do “this work” you have to be ready for the expected and the unexpected. This work is not easy, nor is it for the faint of heart. But, if you choose it, you’ll have the time of your life when you see how change can happen.

Our team leaders created a culture of belonging and a learning environment that both challenged my familiarity and comfort with technology as well as my ability to think out of the box when creating models of change. Participating in this course was just what I needed to continue my efforts in addressing systemic change.

[1] Guiner, L. (1995). A case of the emperor’s clothes. In K. Crenshaw, N. Gotanda, G. Peller, & K. Thomas (Eds.). Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement (pp.205–235). New York: The New Press.



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