April 12th, 2019
Josh Todd, Executive Director
On Valentine’s Day, Marisol Morales the Vice President of Network Leadership and national staff in charge of advancing racial equity throughout Campus Compact launched L.O.V.E Notes, a blog on Living Our Value of Equity. Here in Oregon we have been investing significant staff time, human resources, and emotional labor to live out our value of equity by taking an intentional deep dive into our internal practices, policies, procedures, and the harm that has been caused to our staff of color. That process has been led by our Educational Equity Program Manager Kaycie Lopez Jones and I want to thank her publicly for guiding this important work and thank all of our staff for committing the time and energy to engage in this process.
When I thought about giving these remarks I heard the voice of our staff, in my head asking how we (and by that they meant me) could live out our value of equity without having a more public accounting for the ways in which we failed and a transparent acknowledgement of the pain that had been caused. My remarks today are intended as a public accounting of the lessons I have learned and the mistakes that taught me those lessons. These remarks are also, an open love letter to all the people who make this network great and have moved us collectively forward towards a vision of a more just and equitable education system. Even getting to this place to share these remarks have been a journey of love and trust building. I shared these remarks with staff to make sure they were comfortable with what I was going to say and I know that this moment and the lessons we have learned wouldn’t have been possible without deep, ongoing work to build trust through honesty, accountability, and change. This is a continuation of that journey.
This year has been an incredibly challenging financial year for Campus Compact. When I first came into the organization we faced a 120K deficit (16% of our total budget), 6 months into the fiscal year, with no plan to close the gap. We instituted our first fundraiser, A Night in Serve-landia, our first individual giving and corporate giving campaigns, we cut expenses, and unfortunately were forced to use all the reserves the agency had at the time. We got back into the black and didn’t have to lay off staff. That first 6 months though has placed us on a dangerous edge where any significant drop in revenue, without reserves to cushion us, becomes a crisis. My reaction to this has been to protect staff from the stress and to take on more. To shield them and in my mind allow them to do their work without distraction. But what this also does is cut off any chance of collective solutions to our problems and creates a barrier between me and the rest of staff because I have chosen to be parental instead of honest. This year, through our internal equity process and the support of an amazing facilitator and mentor Keela Johnson, we worked together to address financial challenges that arose. We were a team instead of an Executive Director and staff. For positional leaders in the audience, my lesson was that transparency is always better than secrecy, even if done for ostensibly good reasons. Adults don’t need to be parented and protected, they need to be trusted and engaged.
During our financial troubles this year, I also thought for a brief period that we would have to layoff one of our staff. My decision making was that a large deficit existed in one program and so that program manager, who is a woman of color, would have to be laid off. I shared that possibility with them and obviously it caused the individual staff member but also our entire team a lot of pain and distress. One staff member, also a woman of color, confided in me how it made her feel, saying: “If this is what we’ll do, discard a Black woman/staff of color in times of financial crisis or stress, than how are we different than any other organizations? How are we equitable?”
Today I want to publicly apologize for that. The staff person I suggested we lay off, was the person who pointed out to me the ways in which I was parenting, instead of leading. That comment led us to have real conversations about our financial situation as a team and creative solutions came out that I couldn’t have come up with on my own. We had to undo the power structure that existed which placed these types of decisions outside the hands of the collective and into the hands of one person. It also forced me to reflect on why this was the right course of action and I came to a profound realization. If we were an engineering firm and faced financial challenges we wouldn’t lay off our engineers- they are the reason we exist and how the core of our mission is achieved. As a racial justice organization, our staff of color and the communities they represent are the reason we exist and they are the most knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to understanding how to navigate systems that perpetuate racism and ultimately how to transform them. My decision making was grounded in conventional wisdom and business as usual - anytime we are doing business as usual we are perpetuating racism and white supremacy because that is at the foundation of all our systems. The importance of mindfulness in this work was again highlighted for me because I only was able to understand the mistake I was making and take a different course because I slowed down and took time to think differently. To experience what was coming up for me and become aware that the decision I was about to make was the absolute wrong one.
Going slow and rethinking our common practices and policies takes an incredible amount of work for me because most systems, common practices and policies aren’t harmful to me. They don’t leave a negative impact. As a white man, unless I am hyper vigilant in every moment and looking for how decisions, investments, practices, and programs might negatively impact folxs with less societal privilege than me I can easily miss those harmful impacts. Even when I am hyper vigilant I still miss stuff because I am always translating, always using learned knowledge to critique systems, never life knowledge. For those who experience these same policies and practices as harmful on a daily basis, rethinking these systems is far easier. They have had years of practice envisioning how things could be different! For white leaders in the audience who are in positions to hire folxs of color to help improve outcomes for students and faculty and staff of color - listen to them, especially when you don’t understand or even disagree with them. Connect them to real power to create change and trust that they are the experts.
One final example and by no means all or the last of my mistakes, centers on a sensitive topic, one we aren’t suppose to talk about - compensation.
Before coming to Campus Compact and working in the nonprofit sector I worked my entire career in the public sector, specifically local government. What I saw modeled there were clear job descriptions with structured pay tiers based on years of service, applied equally across everyone in that job class. It seemed fair and I brought that with me to Campus Compact. All staff doing similar jobs made roughly the same amount of money with differences attributed to tenure in the position. This was the definition of equality, not equity. Equality is paying everyone the same, equity is paying them what they deserve. When one of our staff was hired they were more educated, more experienced, and had life experience that prepared them for applying an equity lens to their program above what other program managers had but they were paid the same or in one case, less. When this staff member brought their concerns to me, I didn’t really think the concerns were valid because the difference in pay between staff was small and attributed to years on the job. It took almost a year and half for our team to convince me that this needed to change and another year for me to fully understand why. During that time, we perpetuated a historical truth that black people’s labor, especially black women’s labor has been underpaid, undervalued, and exploited.
In this work, those with life experience of racism are the most qualified to understand both how to navigate and transform systems but also how to create engagements which are healing spaces and trauma informed for participants of color because they have experienced the harm and trauma of other so-called safe spaces where people come together to talk about race. They also will always carry a heavier workload because other folxs of color will approach and confide in them more frequently than they would a white trainer AND white participants are more likely to want them to help explain concepts they don’t understand and at times convince them why what they have said is correct. That workload, the emotional labor, isn’t compensated. It doesn’t show up on a job description and yet if any of us have hired staff of color to do equity work or just to be in a predominantly white space it is likely if not guaranteed that they are carrying a heavy emotional labor workload. All of the Latinx teachers who have and will continue to come out of Chemeketa's Teach Learn Grown program (which our College Access Corps members support) will stand up in front of rooms that are 90% Latinx and students will see, sometimes for the first time a teacher that looks like them. Those teachers will bear a different weight of expectation from their students, one that must be acknowledged. I am not saying there is no place for white people in this work. I have plenty of stories of how white participants in our engagements will listen to me better even if I am saying the exact same thing as one of my colleagues of color. This work must include white leaders because the problem of racism and racial superiority lies with us but we must also acknowledge that race is an experience and as such the way employment, especially employment centered on equity and justice, looks and feels different, when done by folxs of color then it does when done by white folxs.
Through our internal equity roadmap process we have recently adopted a new policy which creates a structured incentive for both education and experience so we are paying people what they deserve not just the same. The policy also begins to address and compensate for the knowledge, skills, and abilities that folxs with life experience gained by navigating racism should be compensated for- especially when their job is specifically helping others think through how to transform systems to deconstruct racism and white supremacy. These changes have been hard fought by our staff and in many cases have happened in spite of me not because of me.
Too often the story I hear about Campus Compact centers on me and how I helped the board transform from a service-learning organization to a racial justice organization that uses service as a tool to achieve educational equity. Today I want to clearly say we are the organization we are because of this collective of brilliant and amazing professionals both staff and partners. To be able to LOVE, we needed Mila and Kaycie and Carmen to hold clear visions, speak truth to power, and push for change. Our AmeriCorps program managers of color were the first to apply an equity lens to their AmeriCorps programs, member recruitment, and supervisor evaluation and support which is the foundation and largest touch points we have with our network. Campus Compact wouldn’t be able to LOVE without Joyce Coleman, our former board member who, while the VP of Student Services at Umpqua Community College, first sent me readings on what emotional labor was, or Daniel Eisen at Pacific University who in the first cohort of ELSEE said his goal was “to decolonize the mind” before I even understood that decolonization was an entire field of study. Campus Compact couldn’t LOVE without Sonali Sangeeta Balajee who has been such a strong thought partner and participant/teacher in our growth and evolution. Her leadership of the ELSEE and bringing in her developing frame around Belonging and spirituality have transformed what we see as equity work.
I have already mentioned her, but to Keela Johnson, our mediator and facilitator who lovingly asked us to hold each other’s hands, look into each other’s eyes, and ask for what we need, thank you. Our community advisory board for VISTA, strong, brilliant amazing community members who ground our decision making in the needs of the community and give so much to us. Yosha, Ray, & Shanice are here with us today, thank you so much. To our Board of Directors who dedicate so much of their time and resources to support us, thank you! The largest love note of all, to our amazing AmeriCorps members who serve across the State, on the lowest of incomes, sacrificing their comfort for a calling to service that promotes equity within all our member institutions. Members like Paulina you heard about earlier. If Paulina our C2C member had not spoke the language of her young student from Cuba he wouldn’t have likely opened up to her. We are so glad he did and she was there to support him or all the students supported and encouraged by Ruth at PCC Rock Creek, changing lives by creating the infrastructure for PCC to institute mentors who look like their students. These stories exist all over the State because of Campus Compact and the AmeriCorps members we serving in Oregon through our agency and I celebrate them. But even as I celebrate them and their service I am also struck by how much work we still have to do. We can’t fully Live Our Value of Equity when all of our AmeriCorps members receive poverty level living allowances. Our programs are built on the exploitation of their labor because we lack the financial ability to increase their living allowance above the minimum or provide supports like housing and food for members like VISTAs who aren’t allowed to make above the poverty line. This is especially hard for us when we have done the intentional work of transforming our recruitment process to ensure our AmeriCorps members represent the communities they are serving and therefore are predominantly members of color feeling this negative impact. We keep striving though for a more equitable future while recognizing our limitations and mistakes along the way.
The ability to Live Out our Value of Equity, to LOVE, is the work of our collective, it doesn’t rest on any one person - nor should it. This room is filled with LOVE. We love each of you and are so grateful that you are on this journey with us and here to support Campus Compact living out our value of Equity.