The Executive Learning Series on Equity and Empowerment (ELSEE), facilitated by Sonali Sangeeta Balajee and Josh Todd, brings together educational administrators, faculty, and students from across Oregon to delve into discussion of systems of power, privilege and oppression, and the application of an equity lens in the work we do across education. Institutions put together a cohort of up to 8 representatives and together participate in a yearlong course that includes a culminating project meant to being to shift outcomes towards equity at their institutions.
Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, the government agency overseeing pubic higher education in our state, has put two cohorts through the ELSEE, one in 2017-18 and a current cohort in 2018-19. HECC entered the ELSEE with a specific goal. HECC is “committed to increasing college completion rates overall and also completion rates for specific racial and ethnic groups,” explains Patrick Crane. “ELSEE was about learning tools to put the equity lens we already had into practice. Yeah we have a policy, but how do we really see it through?”
Patrick says both cohorts agree that ELSEE gave participants “a space that is removed from the structural authority that determines how we interact with each other, and build relationships we wouldn’t have otherwise built. It has given us time and space which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the organization to unpack the structural racism in the world and at work…and think about how we at HECC both interrupt and reinforce structural racism.”
Beyond relationship building, Cohort 1’s ELSEE project is beginning to impact the way things happen at the state agency. Bob Brew shares that the “ongoing project was to examine the hiring, recruiting, and retention practices to look for unconscious bias or things that discourage folks from applying. We put a new tag at top of job notices that says ‘research shows women and people of color are less likely to apply if they don’t meet 100% of qualifications. We encourage you to apply even if you don’t think you meet all the qualifications.’” HECC also disabled a function in their online recruiting tool that removed candidates from the pool if they said they did not meet all the qualifications. Bob remembers, “we were in the midst of a hire… and with these changes two of the top 5 candidates were women and one was a women of color who would have been kicked out because they checked the ‘I don’t meet the qualifications’ box but they were the most qualified. One of them was hired.”
Now, the cohorts are working together to think about how to bring lessons from ELSEE to the whole 124-person agency.
“What I came a way with was, are good intentions aren’t enough,” says Bob. “Because systems are entrenched. If you want to disrupt them, you have to do so intentional and planfully.”