So much has occurred since Tufts Department of OT shared our solidarity statement committing to combating systemic racism last June. The past several months put hearts, minds, and the soul of this country to the test. We continue to face a world-wide pandemic and economic crisis. The US endured a polarizing presidential election followed by an insurrection. We can no longer turn a blind eye to inequity and racial injustices. It is imperative we take intentional action to create a truly inclusive society.
In September, as part of a university wide commitment to dismantling racism, members of Tufts faculty and staff formed the department’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Racial Justice Committee. We wanted to share with you who we are and why doing this work matters to us. We invite you to share your thoughts and feelings with us on our current Action Statement. We have developed these initiatives to hold ourselves accountable for doing the important work we need to do to bring about the change that is urgently needed.
Meet our DEIRJ Committee:
Fifteen years ago, as a new graduate from our post-professional OTD program, I was hired at Tufts to coordinate admissions and recruitment for our Department. Part of my job description was to increase diversity within our applicant pool. At that point in my life, I had little knowledge and few ideas about how to accomplish this goal and assumed the reputation of Tufts and our Department would take care of that for me. Fifteen years ago, I did not fully comprehend the importance of diversifying our applicant pool, our student body, and our profession – nor did I understand the opportunities we are missing when we fail to dismantle systems of exclusion. I now know that diverse groups increase the collective and individual intelligence of the whole group; diverse groups are better at problem solving and drive innovation. This work to diversify our Department – it matters. But I am still learning, and I still struggle to find the most effective ways to create fundamental change. For me, being part of the DEIJ group is an important step toward understanding the concrete ways that I can commit to action within our Department – and within myself.
As someone who has been a part of Tufts-BSOT now longer than I have been anywhere on this earth (30 years as student, staff, and now lecturer), I see being a member of the DEIRJ Committee as a sort of coming of age for me. I, like Jill, so wanted to see the diversity in our program and profession. I now see how, even in my deepest of desires and efforts, I, and we, needed to and continue to need to do different and do better. Being on the journey now of truly learning to be anti-racist, I am educating myself not only through reading and reflecting. I do so as being part of this group of leaders as well as through other roles I am taking in organizations. I must take more active steps to move us forward. Sitting with the discomfort of what can be painful or difficult is something I’ve certainly had some practice with, and for me this is definitely part of the process we must move through. I am honored to be a part of this DEIRJ group. I have been blessed to have had and continue to have the privilege of working with very talented and insightful students, alums, and colleagues. Your example, grace, and inspiration give me hope and motivate me. Many of you know that for me this work has long been both personal and professional-I need to stay committed to examining my own white supremacy and to doing the work. I must move beyond personal examination and changing my ways of doing and being and actively address systemic structures that support inequitable status quo and ongoing disparities. I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings about the action plan we’ve shared with you today!
This past year has seen a long-overdue reckoning in our country in regards to social and racial justice and I have been deeply affected by the changes that I have seen and the changes that I want to continue to be a part of. As an Asian-American woman who has seen an increase in harassment and violence against other Asian-Americans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic due in part to racist remarks, such as calling the disease the “Chinese virus,” I have felt renewed dedication to speak up and speak out against the myriad ways marginalized communities continue to be oppressed in our society. Simultaneously, I have been working harder to acknowledge and address my own privileges – including (but not limited to) the ways that Asian Americans benefit from the oppression of Black communities – and improving my ability to be an ally. As a researcher on the social and emotional lives of people living with serious mental illness – people who are more likely to experience incarceration, homelessness, and death by the hands of police – I am rethinking my professional goals as to ways that my research can better serve the needs of this specific marginalized community. As a first-year faculty member, I felt it was important to be a part of the development of our department’s first DEIRJ committee as one small way that I can contribute to the change that I want to see in my department, my field, and my society.
Classroom discussion is only as strong as the people in the room. As an educator I pull students’ experiences into the classroom to enhance understanding and application of concepts. When I reflect on who is a part of this discussion and where it needs to go, we are limited within the profession and community. We need to start taking the steps to address the injustices our academic systems have created by dismantling what has been considered the norm and expectation. I am learning how I have contributed to today’s status. While this is uncomfortable, I cannot do the work without you, my students, my colleagues, to hold accountability and share perspectives, be reflective, and find ways to transform our understanding and role at systemic levels.
My white privilege is on display every day and I’ve worked hard to come to terms with it. I was a white baby adopted into a middle class white family in America. Growing up my parents always taught my brother and me to ‘not see color’. “Color doesn’t matter, we are all humans,” they would say. I fully believed that for the longest time. However, once I found my own voice, those ideals didn’t make sense to me. The last few years, and especially the last 8 months, have shown me that color does matter. If we don’t see color, we can’t or we refuse to see the struggles of other races, whether that be Black, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic. I joined the Diversity Equity Inclusion and Racial Justice (DEIRJ) committee because, as cliché as it may sound, change starts from within and all it takes is one or a couple of people to inspire other groups of people, to inspire more people, and so on. The fight for DEIRJ can’t end here, with this pandemic. It can’t be a passing fad. Today, most of my family still processes not being racist by not seeing color. I hope to use this platform and all of the other voices fighting for racial equity to continuously try to teach them and society what being an anti-racist really means.
I joined the Department of Occupational Therapy’s first Diversity Equity Inclusion and Racial Justice (DEIRJ) committee this fall 2020 because I believed something more needed to happen at the department level by a committed group of people dedicated to addressing social and racial justice given the historic and current violence and injustice directed toward Black and Brown individuals. I also understand that the only way that “all” lives matter is if Black lives matter and I do think that other groups who have been marginalized, oppressed and/or persecuted fully understand this. I am a White Gay male who has been afforded many privileges and opportunities (including greater personal physical and emotional safety in daily life) because of my Whiteness. However, I’m keenly aware that this has not been the experience of many other LGBTQ+ individuals, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), people with [dis]abilities and others who are or have been underrepresented or marginalized. I became actively involved in addressing discrimination, societal inequities and health care disparities during the AIDS pandemic of the 1990s. I worked in specialized programs in NYC for children and families affected by AIDS because a number of programs were afraid to work with them or staff provided rationale for why they should not have to work with them. Part of my job was to advocate and educate others to alleviate their fears so ultimately there would be greater supports, resources and services available. During this time, I was so impressed at how an extremely diverse group of people from different identity, racial and ethnic groups and with different daily life experiences and resources came together to support each other, as advocates, activists, service providers and educators to demand and create social and health care policy changes and decisions. So now in the midst of two systemic pandemics (one recent, one not), I am grateful and hopeful that a diverse group of people are coming together once again to demand and create changes in the balance of power, privilege, opportunity and freedom from harm (and murder!) and the dismantling of structural racism deep rooted in our society and institutions. I am energized by the call to action from our DEIRJ committee, our OT students and faculty, Tufts leadership, the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) and other groups to collectively ensure that Tufts and our profession are anti-racist institutions and that we and those who we interact with are heard, valued and included.