As with so many others, 2020 upended the way we work. It has been eye-opening, illuminating, and humbling. And not just in terms of working remotely or adjusting to life in a pandemic. For our team at Vermont Afterschool, part of this re-focusing and re-envisioning our work has meant examining the way we approach diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and being forthright about our dedication to being an anti-racist organization.
But first, let’s back up a bit.
Our DEI work started a few years ago. In addition to workshops and partnerships on inclusivity and cultural competency, trauma-informed trainings, and a leadership institute focused on restorative practices, we also devoted staff time to a rich discussion around the Tema Okun article on how white supremacy culture shows up in organizations. We focused a lot on the antidotes laid out in the article, though it didn’t necessarily result in a measurable action plan.
And then, George Floyd.
In Summer 2020 we decided to be more intentional with our efforts. So we started to meet and figure out how we could become an organization with an avowed anti-racist framework. We drafted a statement around our DEI work and a timeline of specific actions and outcomes targeting three groups: ourselves as individuals, our nonprofit organization, and our field at large across Vermont.
And now, the data.
New data showing how VT afterschool and out-of-school time programs are not truly inclusive places for young people really hit home for us. According to 2019 data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), released by the Vermont Department of Health in 2020, high school students in Vermont who are “racial or ethnic minorities” (term used in the YRBS survey) are less likely than their white peers to participate in extracurricular/afterschool activities. See more on the racial discrepancy on our YRBS data digest here. Likewise, students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT) are significantly less likely to participate in extracurricular activities than their heterosexual/cisgender peers.
Since we work with afterschool, third space, and youth work professionals statewide and promote the power of positive youth development, it’s important for us to look at how we can inspire the field to take action. According to Jennifer Siaca Curry, the out-of-school time field can and should express a commitment to equity, inclusion, and culturally responsive practice. We must actively value and respect the identities of the young people we serve, including their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, appearance, and ability.
In Equity and Inclusion: An Action Agenda for Youth Development Professionals, Curry proposes significant, yet simple changes out-of-school time (OST) professionals could take to support youth while embracing their diverse assets. This article from NAA offers a nice summary of Curry’s suggestions and is worth a look. Something I’d like to point out is Curry’s assertion that “before considering ways to design programs in an anti-discriminatory context, OST professionals must examine our own beliefs and practices. We must think of ourselves as agents of change.”
This directly relates to the Equity and Racism Series we are offering for 2020-2021 with Rebecca EunMi Haslam of Seed the Way. We’re offering this virtual series at no cost in order to have it be open and accessible to all. In addition to substantive content delivered over six virtual sessions by Haslam, we also get the chance to do role-playing, observation and feedback, and peer coaching. We decided to invest in this type of interactive professional development because it offers practical tools to use when addressing incidents of discriminatory behavior and disrupting patterns of inequity, allowing us to feel prepared and confident.
We are so very fortunate to have Rebecca leading this training. She’s engaging, thoughtful, warm, and willing to push participants to think & act differently. She’s asking us to change. And there’s still three sessions left in the series coming up in Spring 2021! Please join if you can as a first step on the path to anti-racist and truly inclusive practices. We cannot drag our heels on issues of equity because people who are marginalized need us –people in positions of power, white folks, people who have privilege and social capital, etc. — to actively break down systems of oppression and inequity. Let’s work together to create safe spaces where ALL youth, staff, and families are welcome and can thrive.