Community and Equity Certificate provides social justice education across WSU

Community and Equity Certificate provides social justice education across WSU
March 17, 2021
Posted by:
Garrett Wong

By WSU Insider

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Staff and faculty interested in building equity, social justice, and cultural competency across the Washington State University system and in their communities have a new way to pursue their goal. The Community and Equity Certificate, now available as an official learning track within Human Resource Services, establishes a foundation of equity-mindedness across all campuses and lays the groundwork for a challenging personal journey.

Building a ‘continuum of practice’

The certificate sprang from a 2018 student request that WSU provide equity and cultural competency training for faculty and staff who engage with students. As a result of that request, a system-wide equity leadership collective developed a workshop series that would give participants a toolkit for engaging more effectively with students, colleagues, and community partners. Those foundational workshops, Equity 101, 102, and 103, were immediately filled and met with positive feedback from staff from all WSU locations – including requests for additional learning opportunities. “What we were finding is that after folks participated in the Equity series, they were like, ‘What else is there?’” said Merrianneeta Nesbitt, the assistant director of the Office of Outreach and Education, an instructor in the sociology department, and a key member of the leadership collective. “So we created additional areas of allyship, skill development, and community building in an effort to build a continuum of practice.”

To earn the certificate, participants must take all three foundational workshops (these must be taken sequentially), at least one workshop each from the allyship and skill development areas, and both building community together workshops. Details about each workshop are available on the HRS website.The allyship, skill development, and building community together workshops can be taken at any time – even before participants have completed the Equity series. “If you find that you’re waitlisted for the foundational series, you’re welcome to take an ally session, or the two community building sessions, or one of the skill development sessions,” Nesbitt said. “So folks can be active, even while they’re waitlisted.” The multiple workshop offerings, and the ability to take most of them in any order, helps make equity education across the system a journey, not a destination. “Think of it [the certificate] as a starter training rather than thinking, ‘Oh, I did this training, I’m done, I’m going to be anti-racist for the rest of my life,’” said Alice Ma, a registered dietitian with Dining Services who has completed several workshops. “It’s ongoing learning.”

Campus learning, community impact

For Shelby McKay, assistant director of athletics for student-athlete development, the knowledge she’s gleaned from the workshops has informed the work she does with the students in her programs. But she has also used what she’s learned about equity and shared language at WSU to identify the gaps in education she and her colleagues have and “recognize ways to continue education within the athletics department in addition to what campus provides.”Nesbitt said that kind of continued self-evaluation and growth are key values of the certificate. “I think the certificate is providing for space and place and conversation,” she said. “I think if people really start to participate, they’ll be able to see how they can actually integrate concepts, ideas, and practices into their work, so that they’re actually seeing inclusion being enacted.” The workshops not only create more constructive relationships between staff and students  – they also demonstrate to students the importance of equity education at WSU.

“Students can’t grow and can’t practice inclusivity if we at the top don’t,” McKay said. “They have to see us do it, otherwise they think, ‘What’s the point? Our role models on campus don’t believe in this or don’t try, so why should we?’ And that creates a rift and we won’t move forward.” Todd Vanek, the director of online learning for the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture and an early participant in the certificate program, has already begun to show his students the importance of equity by weaving what he’s learned into his classes. He said the workshops he’s taken have increased his awareness of diversity and its benefits, and he has used that new awareness to talk about equity both on campus and off. “If I have knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion and I’m not teaching it and I’m not supporting it and I’m not encouraging it, I’m doing something wrong,” he said.

Creating that personal connection to the material is fundamental to the certificate, Nesbitt said, and each workshop offers strategies people can use to apply what they’re learning in both big and small ways. For Ma, the workshops have opened her eyes to facets of inclusivity she hadn’t considered before. She said that now, when she gives a presentation to students over Zoom, she makes sure it’s accessible to students with visual or hearing impairments. When she consults with students on their dietary needs, she thinks about the ways their culture may affect not only what they can eat but also what other services available to them. And when she volunteers with the Moscow Food Co-op board, she thinks about whether the store is accessible to community members of all income levels. “There’s a bigger picture to it,” she said. “I’m really thinking about inclusivity across all the roles I have.”Find out more about the certificate on the Student Affairs and HRS webpages.