Monthly Archives: December 2021

Community Blog

Rekindling the Fire: Ideas for Action to Advance E-P’s DEIJ Work

By Matt Gee

It has been over a year and half since George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer. Many called the summer of 2020 a racial reckoning for the US, but despite all that energy, what has actually changed? Yes, small gains have been made. From 2015-2020, the number of people with the title “head of diversity” has increased by 104%. Some cities, including Boston, have proposed cuts to police budgets and reallocation to public health and housing services (though, there is some skepticism). However, there is just as much evidence of stagnation and even slide back. A study by Creative Investment Research found that of the $50 billion that companies pledged to “racial equity,” only $250 million has been spent on or committed to actual programs. Furthermore, a national study on white support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement found that despite a surge in support during the summer of 2020, one year later, support for BLM has not only fallen off, it has actually dropped below the level it started at.

Despite the bleak national scene, the situation at Eliot-Pearson (E-P) is a little better. The department has made strides towards Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ). A DEIJ faculty coordinator position has been created; faculty have been asked to review their courses with an eye toward DEIJ in consultation with Tufts’ Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching; anti-racism colloquia have been had. However, while these actions are good first steps, they are far from sufficient if racial equity and justice truly are our goals. Merely educating people about racism without honest introspection and bold reforms will not lead to the dismantling of racist structures that perpetuate racial inequality. What we need is structural and cultural transformation, not tinkering around the edges.

Below, I present a few ideas that I gleaned from three discussions on anti-racism in academia that took place in the 2021 Society for Research in Child Development Biennial conference. I have organized them under broad actions called for by Outley and Blyth (2020). Many other valuable ideas were shared at the conference, but I chose to highlight these because they were mentioned in all three sessions and because they are programmatic/structural in nature.

Encourage policies to foster interactive learning communities that promote cultural humility (Outley & Blythe, 2020, p. 10)

Action 1: Create third spaces (outside of classes and recitations) for people to do “the work” of deconstructing racism. For white students, faculty, and staff, this might look like learning about white supremacy and examining the ways that they perpetuate it in their work and interactions with others. An essential component of these spaces should be accountability systems for taking anti-racist action beyond just further reading and discussion. For students, faculty, and staff of color, third spaces may serve as a place for commiseration and/or unlearning white supremacy. Instead of treating these spaces as “add-ons,” they could be built into program requirements. For example, two hours of doctoral RA hours could be devoted to participating in these spaces each month, or faculty could integrate these spaces into their course assignments. 

Actively develop a pipeline of diverse scholars (Outley & Blythe, 2020, p. 9)

Action 2: Reform how we evaluate students who are looking for admission into our program, assistantships in our labs, recommendations for fellowships, etc. As gatekeepers of opportunity, we have the power to expand what is deemed valuable. To do so, I urge us to take a hard look at what it currently means to be a “good” and “successful” student and what it means for a student to “fit” in our department. One university in the Midwest has shifted their approach to graduate admissions. Instead of talking about the weaknesses of applicants, they start with the assumption that every student can be successful in their program. Then, to select students, they ask: “Where would our department fail this student?” “Where could we be most successful in supporting this student?” In doing so, assets are centered instead of deficits.

Reexamine past and current research narratives (Outley & Blythe, 2020, p. 7)

Action 3: Create a requirement that every student who graduates from E-P must take at least one class on critical race theory, and/or require that every E-P class has an anti-racist lens. An understanding of power and privilege, which profoundly shape our perspective and the lives of the youth and families we hope to serve, should be valued as much as research methods and statistics.

I know that any one of these actions will take considerable effort, but if we fail to act, we will certainly perpetuate the same systems that led to Mr. Floyd’s murder. I hope that this blog post sparks bold ideas and rekindles the fire of racial justice action we are trying to keep alive. Now, let’s get (back) to work.

Matt Gee is a doctoral student in E-P, a research assistant in the Development of Identity and Community Engagement Lab, and a member of the student DEIB committee. If anyone would like to discuss more or comment on the work that E-P is taking along these lines, he would be happy to be in conversation. The views are those of the author.