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Engaging the Equity Journey

A new program doesn’t just spring into being. Take the multi-step process to develop what will be an HFS diversity committee. In April 2015, President Cauce proposed the Race and Equity Initiative, which was itself a response to ongoing situations local and national as well as her personal experiences. HFS and other UW departments responded in turn by enlarging existing plans or developing new ones to address the themes of racial and social inequalities. 

Through President Cauce’s support, the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity offered UW staff the opportunity to increase their awareness and knowledge of equity issues through a series of classes. Designed to guide the University toward achieving its stated goals for diversity and inclusion, the Diversity Blueprint was also updated.

Then, this year, as part of the Race and Equity Initiative, seeds grants became available to UW departments. To support the creation of a new cross-functional team addressing this timely issue, Assistant Director for Human Resources Cheryl Ewaldsen, Administrator for Residence Education Erica Barton and Administrator for North Campus and Diversity Initiatives Julia Esser applied for and received a Diversity and Inclusion Seed Grant to provide training for HFS staff. With those grant funds plus additional support from HFS Executive Director Pam Schreiber, the three staff created and put into motion a training program that would lead the formation of a diversity committee.

As they noted in the submission, “Our purpose is to develop a skilled and well-trained cohort of HFS staff from varied functional units to develop and lead a Departmental committee that will propel forward the HFS strategic priority to support the Race & Equity Initiative and embed diversity and social justice into everything we do.”

Step One: On November 16, 65 HFS staff participated in the introductory session called Equity 101 led by Maketa Wilborn, an international organizational development consultant, facilitator, artist and educator. Through a series of exercises and dialogues, the energetic facilitator created a learning environment for meaningful and heartfelt expression coupled with deep listening. As the day progressed, he also created a graphic representation of the session, a visual map of the topics and their relationships to each other on the path of the Equity Journey. 

Participating learners found the day challenging and rewarding. Manager of Program Operations, Cafes & Express Markets, Dawn Gatta said the program reinforced her appreciation and gratitude of the Department and the University being proactive in this area. “The need for the creation of opportunities for underrepresented individuals to have equal access to resources and the opportunity to participate without bias is one of the many reason I find value in my professional career at the UW,” she noted. About the program, she said, “The experiences, personal perceptions and values shared gave me more insight to reflect upon and help increase my awareness of my cultural competency.” 

Conference Coordinator Eric Dent mentioned the range of the program: “Diversity was addressed, not just on race, but also in diversity of ideas, class, sexual orientation and other isms.” Recounting the experience, Eric added, “Our presenter had the ability to think of life as a journey or a river of life where our scenery, comfort and ability will be tested. We have the power to make the change, and the feelings of discomfort, vulnerability and ignorance are a part of the path. Face it and move forward. Growth will happen with true effort.”
Residence Ed. Specialist for Training & Selection Shannon Bradley, like other staff in Residential Life, had previously participate in similar seminars. In this case, she was “excited to hear from others in HFS and the robust conversations certainly broadened my perspective.”
From Outreach Program Supervisor Rianne Peterson’s point of view, she “loved that Maketa, the facilitator, drove home the idea that learning about equity and inclusion is not a linear process and is not identical for each person.”

Associate Director for Facilities, Operations, and Special Projects Josh Gana also found the Equity 101 session to be quite engaging.  He lauded Maketa: “The facilitator found a way to connect with members of the audience regardless of where they are on the equity journey. It is very difficult to design an experience that speaks to such a wide array of staff, and he did so with skill and passion.

Coming next: Based on the success of this first program, Cheryl said a second session designed to dive deeper is being planned for winter quarter, again, with Maketa as the facilitator. The diversity committee will be formed during spring quarter.