The staff at the Minnesota Child Welfare Training Academy (MNCWTA) worked together to document and share the work we have been doing since the beginning of the year on decentering whiteness, as well as some ideas for furthering antiracism work. Equity, diversity, and inclusion are not just value statements - they are expectations for our team. We recognize that expecting these values to be lived out in our training and professional development opportunities necessitates vulnerability, trust, and a level of humility to each person’s experiences, actions, and opportunities to grow, which is something we practice in all interactions.
MNCWTA leadership is educated about and deeply invested in creating equitable and diverse teams. We recognize that the experience of our workforce may vary widely, from lived experience to collegiate to professional, but also know that each experience enriches our knowledge and ability to provide culturally responsive services for Minnesota communities.
The commitment to this ideology does not stop at hiring, but permeates every aspect of our work, from relationships to the curriculum we design and the training we deliver. We set the stage for deeper cultural understanding by building a culture of Radical Candor (our adopted feedback model), intentionally focusing on the building blocks of caring deeply about one another, and holding direct, empathetic conversations. We collectively work to honor and care about each employee as their whole, authentic self, including and in celebration of their race, color, creed, gender, gender expression, age, ancestry, disability, and/or sexual orientation.
"The impact of holding time and space for this work that truly is personal has been exponential,” said Renee Armstrong, Curriculum Development Lead for the MNCWTA. “It’s crucial within the Training Academy that we not only value equity but live into this value, integrate it into our learning environments in challenging and supportive ways, and walk the walk within our team."
One way to illustrate our commitment to this work is to share the series of learning circles we have been engaged in as a team. We call this work “Decentering Whiteness”. Decentering Whiteness consists of a series of monthly (or more frequent) sessions of deep reflection, dialogue, and learning using Layla Saad’s workbook Me and White Supremacy, along with a variety of other complementary Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) resources. Here is what that work has looked like for us:
- Each of the sessions includes the following: Being in your body, reflection, homework of action or reflection, pairs, small group, and large group discussion
- We established language, definitions, and intentional communal understanding around Decentering Whiteness, including the concepts of white supremacy and anti-racism
- One-on-one coaching and follow-up was provided
- Homework consisted of making observations of where whiteness shows up, interpersonal interactions, and exposure to non-dominant spaces
Most MNCWTA staff participated in our Decentering Whiteness learning sessions. In our conversations, we have agreed that this kind of learning works most effectively after trust has been established and in small groups, so that the brave and difficult conversations that must happen are able to be had. This work resulted in honest and vulnerable testimony from the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) members of our team about their lived personal and professional experiences, challenging our white colleagues to be more aware of and intentional about how we show up in those spaces.
“Racism is not solely based on one’s actions toward a person of another cultural background, but may also involve one’s complacency to how it is deeply interwoven into the fabric of our society,” says Eric Kratt, SSIS Training Lead for the Training Academy. “We replace complacency with action, by learning about race relations through a historical lens, by broadening our own understanding of implicit bias, by researching how various systems perpetuate racism, by opening ourselves to the important conversations that promote equity, and by researching the beliefs of our leaders.”
We now continue our Decentering Whiteness work online each week and it is blossoming into extended work and conversation around racial issues that permeate our daily work. We continue to share and challenge one another to take action in our personal communities, and collaborate to address the systemic issues that plague our system.
We are committed to impacting disparities through comprehensively covering challenging issues through every training we provide. To do that we need to be prepared to facilitate challenging classroom dialogues and address systemic racism, white supremacy and the full range of diversity, equity and inclusion knowledge and skills our workforce needs throughout our offerings. In order to do this, we first must commit to doing the work ourselves.