DEI, now?! We’re dealing with a health crisis! Yes, exactly.

15 Mar

This is a copy of the email I sent to Blink’s community on 3.12.20, reposting here by request. It feels like so much has changed and accelerated even in the past 3 days. I hope you are finding strength in your communities together, as it’s so evident that we can’t get through this alone–and, why would we want to?

I hope this email finds you well and healthy.
Likely, you’re modifying plans for this spring, with your communities and personally (on short notice).

So it seems like the right time to talk about DEI.

What? We’re dealing with a crisis! We don’t have time for DEI right now! We have more important issues–namely, community safety and health–to worry about.

Agreed, community safety is paramount. And, I don’t mean we should talk about DEI instead of covid-19: I mean, we need to talk about DEI especially if we want to be effective in our responses to this pandemic. This isn’t a question of whether we should care about DEI right now: it’s a question of how DEI matters.

As you plan for tele-learning, for example, it will be helpful, for starters, to consider:

  • How may the diversity of your community shape students’, employees’ and families’ needs? At times like this (namely: always) it’s not helpful to generalize “what’s best for the community” (as a monolith) so much as to presume diversity and start from the expectation that needs will also be diverse. You don’t have to stereotype your community (what families receiving financial assistance will need; what religiously conservative families will need…) just open up your thinking from “one size fits all” to broadening access.
  • On that note, as you plan, what assumptions about access are you making? You can’t avoid assumptions, and assumptions aren’t in themselves “bad.” This is just to say that by noticing them, you can choose whether and how to act on them.
  • Because diversity is a fact of all communities, what access and scaffolding should you proactively provide for tele-teaching and learning to include all teachers and students? In what languages and through which media are you communicating with families about the transition to online learning? If you don’t have a one-to-one device program already in place, are you making the computer lab’s hardware readily and easily available? (And are you thinking through what’s “ready and easy” for families who may be scrambling to support school changes for more than one child, or around long working hours?)
  • Communicate that you are piloting e-learning (if that’s true) and that while you’re striving for things to work well for all students to continue learning, you’re also inevitably still learning what does work. And, in not just the spirit but the practice of design thinking, you need (not just “welcome”) feedback, requests and recommendations to improve your prototype.
  • On that note, plan to check-in regularly about “how things are going” soon after launching e-learning and throughout the indefinite period during which students and teachers will be using this modality. Proactively checking-in, rather than waiting for feedback from those people in your community who (1) feel safe enough, (2) feel that it’s urgent enough, and (3) are able to initiate communication and feel capable of explaining their situation and being understood, is in itself an act towards equity. And those check-ins are a simultaneous opportunity to check-in on the social-emotional well-being and health of your community, who may get sick and/or manifest other reactions to this change in their daily routine and the overall physical and social climate of the covid-19 pandemic.
  • Finally, as you communicate with your community about covid-19 risks and fears, and the planning you’re doing to support collective health and well-being, how are you actively reducing xenophobic, Sinophobic and generally anti-Asian prejudice and discrimination? For more on racism and the responsibility to act and teach for antiracism right now, here’s a link to Blink’s blog post “Why can’t you call it the “Chinese coronavirus” (since it is)?

I know I haven’t “covered it all.” I’m hoping you’ll reach out and educate me about how you’re advancing DEI because it matters in a crisis, just like it matters every day. And because practice now means integrating cultural competency tomorrow, too.

As news of mandated school closures is breaking all across the US and world, I wish all of you and your communities and families, safety, health and community.

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