Addressing Systematized Racism and Promoting Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

September 2020

Background

The Heller Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity (EID) is committed to helping Heller achieve its motto of “knowledge advancing social justice” by building a strong community culture of belongingness for all. This is difficult work, and it requires participation from every corner of our institution to succeed. Our approach to EID work at Heller is grounded in a philosophy of continuous improvement, evidence-based practices and targeted interventions.

We undertake this work at every level: in each of Heller’s academic programs, research institutes, and administrative offices. The Heller EID Office tracks progress on key performance metrics informed by biennial climate surveys and university demographic data as well as qualitative data from the community. Evaluations are based on four EID pillars:

  • Demographics (faculty, staff and students)
  • Vulnerabilities (e.g. health, safety, wellness, employment, housing, food security)
  • Belonging and inclusion (including perceived discrimination)
  • Satisfaction with Heller and willingness to recommend to others

In the years since Ford Hall 2015, we see evidence of progress in these areas and growing resilience in our community. Our faculty and academic leadership are reexamining curriculum, teaching approaches, and the classroom climate. We take a growth mindset that seeks to build on areas of progress and creativity often inspired by our students, and we are using diffusion innovation and partnerships to expand our reach and our measure of what is possible. 

Yet we also face significant headwinds. Although we have introduced many changes to our recruiting processes at the school, the outcomes from those processes show only small and inconsistent progress. Disparate financial burdens remain, inequity persists in hiring, and we see the mental and physical effects of societal and environmental stress on our community. We lack a unified understanding of history and social justice across disciplines and demographics, and there remain instances of micro-aggressions, invalidations, hyper-visibility, micro-assaults, harassment, racism, bullying and discrimination, particularly among members of marginalized populations. In short, the work is far from done. As President Liebowitz noted on June 9 in a campus-wide initiative to address systemic racism at Brandeis, “I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus. I said then that we must do more; we must do better.”

Approach

The following plan builds on the past work of the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity and the Office of the Dean to address systemic racism at Heller.  During this summer’s  webinar titled “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired,” our colleague Professor Anita Hill linked the famous statement by activist Fannie Lou Hamer to a history of “systematized racism.” This turn of phrase from systemic to systematized takes us from an adjective to a verb, demanding action.

It is in this spirit of action that our offices and our partners in the school and university continue to craft transformative change.

The plan derives from the broader mission statement guiding our equity, inclusion, and diversity efforts at Heller. Our mission is to create a continuously thriving community, aimed at achieving universally higher quality academic and research outcomes for everyone in and beyond the Heller community. We do so by creating specific, measurable, and achievable metrics which we monitor against internal baseline metrics as well as data from peer institutions.  We do so by adopting  the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED), a nationally-recognized, standardized framework for measuring diversity and sharing our HEED progress with the community.

This plan is not merely a suggestion for meeting our aspirational motto of “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice.” To combat “systematized” racism and other kinds of oppression requires a multi-pronged approach addressing multiple aspects of our structure, operation, and activities. In the next stages of our EID work, the responsibility for progress cannot be limited to a small number of people or a specific program office, but embraced by the school and all community members within.

The Heller Plan to Address Systematized Racism

Our plan is built on the four groups that make up the immediate Heller community: students, faculty, researchers and staff as well as close working partnerships with others in the Brandeis community. For each group, we list the major areas of activity; briefly describe our past work; lay out the work and activities that are underway this Academic Year 2021; and in some cases identifie tasks for the future. Some activities are repeated in order to indicate the cross-cutting features of our efforts.

Student-Focused

  • Benchmarking current climate at Heller:
    • Past work: Heller climate survey 2018; Community discussions of results of climate survey.
    • Future work: Next climate survey 20xx (2020 survey delayed due to COVID-19).
  • Expanding recruitment efforts to increase diversity of Heller students:
    • Past work: Expand pool of outreach to students of color and underrepresented groups; expand financial assistance available to students in all programs including full scholarship opportunities.
    • Underway: Continued efforts to expand fellowship and financial support for students of color and underrepresented students across programs.
  • Decolonizing course syllabi to address systemic racism:
    • Past work: Pilot efforts on training, syllabus review, and program revision in the Master of Public Policy Program.
    • Underway: Multiple curriculum interventions in partnership with the Brandeis Center for Teaching and Learning; Brandeis Library; graduate students and faculty/staff representatives from the Social Impact MBA Program; Global Programs.
    • Future: Continued expansion of these efforts based on learning and evaluation of impact in AY2021.
  • Creating Mentorship Opportunities:
    • Past work: Piloted mentoring in small numbers, AY 2020.
    • Underway: Introduced broader pilot mentoring effort (Voluntary online pairing including near peers and alumni) in Summer 2020; Evaluation of impacts late Fall 2020.
    • Future: Expansion of program Fall 2021 based on first year learning.
  • Building Mental Health Supports:
    • Past work: Introduction of embedded BCC Counselor at the Heller School, AY 2019; Heller EID and student service interventions and programming; creation of self-care programming.
    • Underway: BCC Staff will work with staff, faculty and students to support positive mental health of Heller (and all members of the Brandeis) community, focusing specifically on the effects of systemic oppression on mental health outcomes; Heller working with BCC on video resources for self-care.
  • Developing Conflict Resolution Skills:
    • Past work: Student affinity groups and engagement through Sankofa community conversation.
    • Underway: Campus group (led by Heller students) working to create campus-wide transformative justice towards conflict resolution initiative.
  • Promoting community discussions of race and racial justice in social policy
  • Expanding community engagement social justice efforts promoting pipeline of diverse students, including those nearby and across the country
    • Past work: Engagement and evaluation research with Waltham Public Schools; Boston HOPE Institute (2019, 2020).
    • Underway: Continuing outreach work and research engaging Heller students in Waltham, Boston, and through continuation of the HOPE Institute.

Faculty-Focused

  • Benchmarking current climate at Heller
    • Past work: Heller climate survey 2019; Community discussions of results of climate survey.
    • Future work: Next climate survey 20xx (Spring 2021 survey delayed due to COVID-19).
  • Revising hiring processes
    • Past work: Inclusion of EID training into all faculty searches at Heller; Associate Dean for EID participates on Heller search committee; Creation of search guidance and guidelines; reporting and evaluation.
    • Underway: Continuing evaluation on impact of EID training and protocols on hiring outcomes in the future.
  • Decolonizing course syllabi to address systemic racism
    • Past work: Pilot efforts on training, syllabus review, and program revision in the Master of Public Policy Program.
    • Underway: Multiple curriculum interventions in partnership with the Brandeis Center for Teaching and Learning; Brandeis Library; graduate students and faculty/staff representatives from the Social Impact MBA Program; Global Programs.
    • Future: Continued expansion of these efforts based on learning and evaluation of impact in AY2021.
  • Training faculty on race and institutional racism
    • Past work: Training interventions in specific programs; group training in a variety of faculty forums (Faculty meeting; specific program activities).
    • Underway: Mandatory training for all faculty by the Office of Equal Opportunity in Fall 2020; Heller faculty meeting will include one workshop per semester on antiracism, community book.
  • Revising faculty review and evaluation processes:
    • Past work: Progress on increasing diversity in hiring incorporated in annual reviews for master’s and PhD programs; Specific interventions in academic programs; addition of EID questions on student course evaluations; Faculty Activity Report supplement for Heller requiring reports on EID activity.
    • Underway: Faculty Activity Reports will incorporate antiracism/antidiscrimination work undertaken during AY 2021.
    • Future: Incorporate work on antiracism / antidiscrimination as part of promotion guidelines for tenure and non-tenure track faculty.
  • Promoting community discussions of race and racial justice in social policy

Staff- and Researcher-Focused

  • Benchmarking current climate at Heller
    • Past work: Heller climate survey 2019; Community discussions of results of climate survey.
    • Future work: Next climate survey 20xx (Spring 2021 survey delayed due to COVID-19).
  • Revising hiring processes
    • Past work: Creation of new hire recruitment manual and policy training, accountability and monitoring; review and adoption by the Research Steering Committee; Specific interventions with targeted Institutes.
    • Underway: Implementation of recruitment procedures into the search procedures for all institute research and administrative staff hiring; monitoring of adoption of procedures in institutes (through the Annual Review) and discussion of impact on outcomes.
    • Future: Adopt EID hiring protocols for current faculty searches to searches at all levels across the school.
  • Training faculty on race and institutional racism
    • Past work: Training interventions in specific institutes; group training in a variety of faculty forums (faculty and staff meetings; specific program activities).
    • Underway: Mandatory training for all researchers and staff by the Office of Equal Opportunity in Fall 2020; Heller faculty (including researchers) and staff meeting will include one workshop per semester on antiracism, community book.
  • Revising staff/researcher review and evaluation:
    • Past work: Progress on increasing diversity in hiring incorporated in annual reviews for institutes; specific interventions in cascading set of academic programs.
    • Underway: Annual performance reviews will incorporate antiracism/antidiscrimination work undertaken during AY2021.
  • Promoting community discussions of race and racial justice in social policy

The Path Ahead:

Taking on the issue of systematized racism requires a multi-pronged approach and open and participatory process. The above plan provides the major steps that have been taken and those underway and yet to come. But progress also requires small, consistent and ongoing conversations and engagement in our daily decision-making, interactions and work. The late Congressman John Lewis wrote an op-ed days before his passing and published in the New York Times on the day of his funeral. His words are a clarion call, applicable to our task in our Heller and Brandeis community as they are for us all in our society.

"When you see something that is not right, you must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself."