World Trust

Bring Authenticity to Diversity Initiatives

Posted by Lisa Abbott on January 15, 2015

Shakti Butler and World Trust were able to play an important role in the education Shakti_at_Wesleyan-1component of UMASS's response to a racist incident on campus.  Shakti also supported stakeholders as they prepared to write a strategic plan for their diversity initiative. Shelley Perdomo, with the Center for Multicultural Advancement, met Butler at the 2014 National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) in May and had already invited her to host diversity activities at UMASS. "Shakti is so gifted at inviting people to conversation," Perdomo says. "She allows them to be courageous, to ask authentic questions and be more self-reflective." 

Impact at UMASS Amherst

Due to the crisis mode of the campus when Butler arrived in early November, she ended up meeting to offer support and strategic advice to several groups on campus:

  • The UMASS Police Department in a roundtable.
  • The Resident Assistants and other community members in a more organic meeting that focused on future response training and the importance of self-care.
  • Students of color in the dorm where that vandalism occurred, including a victim of the hateful acts. As Butler observed, “They aren’t even breathing -- the students are holding all this in. Giving them an opportunity to reflect on what had happened helps to shift the focus to something proactive, helpful.”
  • The Student Affairs Leadership and Directors, a group that included Perdomo's and Vice Chancellor Gelaye's offices as well as the Dean of Students and representatives from several student groups.

Butler also showed her diversity training video, Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity, at an event open to the entire campus. Response was so positive that many students asked for copies of the film to show in their dorms.

The Diversity Strategic Plan
The future-looking conversations that Butler helped to facilitate had an impact on a new diversity strategic plan for UMASS that the team is creating. "When people are in crisis mode they only look at what is happening right in front of them. Shakti stopped that crisis response mode and got us thinking about where we want to be three years from now," Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye observes. "We love Shakti and wish she could have stayed on!"

Perdomo appreciated the strategic questioning process that Shakti utilized. "It got people out of a negative mode and into thinking about possibilities--this was so powerful for us." Perdomo shared with us some of the things the University is exploring as they move forward:

  • Insuring that courses that fulfill the student's diversity course requirement provide an understanding systems of oppression. This would equip students to thrive and contribute on campus, and in an increasingly multicultural United States. Currently, the requirement can be fulfilled by courses on very broad range of subjects.
  • A more comprehensive student orientation process with presentations about racial equity to parents and students.
  • More training for faculty and resident advisors that allow them to be able to notice and respond better to racist comments or "microaggressions" as they occur.

Shakti prompted this team to envision concrete steps that will create an "inclusive and responsive campus." For example, the overwhelming request from students at the campus-wide forum was for more authenticity in the process. Vice Chancellor Gelaye says, "Students told us that when incidents like this happen, they need us to be more real with them. They said, 'We can take it, and it helps us understand that you get it.'"

That means calling the acts what they are -- racism -- and using the actual language rather than resorting to euphemisms like "bias-related incidents." "That will show in our strategic plan," says Vice Chancellor Gelaye. The transparent, collaborative leadership of Vice Chancellor Gelaye and her team bodes well for the future of racial equity at UMASS Amherst.

World Trust is a nonprofit that uses film and dialogue to provide a catalyst for racial equity and social change. To learn more about our diversity workshops and films, contact World Trust.

Download "5 Hallmarks of Effective Diversity & Inclusion Events" by Shakti Butler, PhD

Topics: Talk about Race, Shakti Butler, Responding to a Racist Incident, Diversity Initiative