Undoing Racism at PSR

Diane Thomas, Randi Walker
August 1, 2002

As events today prove all too emphatically, religious intolerance and racism have a grip on the images and realities of our world. It is not possible for PSR to responsibly train leaders for today's historic and emerging faith communities without facing this persistent reality head-on.

As events today prove all too emphatically, religious intolerance and racism have a grip on the images and realities of our world. It is not possible for PSR to responsibly train leaders for today's historic and emerging faith communities without facing this persistent reality head-on.

The presence of racism, even at a place such as PSR, has long been a discouraging factor in our work as a community. It undermines what we hear in classrooms, in chapel, and in our presentation of ourselves as inclusive, diverse, and affirming. It leads those outside to conclude that we do not mean what we say. Working against racism is a fundamental value underlying our curriculum and yet almost one third of our community comes to PSR new each year. New faculty, staff and students may or may not be familiar with the issues of racism or how to address them in a community setting.

Last year the Education Resources Committee of the faculty decided to undertake a process of creating habitual attention to this matter. While we could not expect to shut down the school for several days each year, a half-day workshop seemed manageable and something we could do regularly near the beginning of each school year. We wanted to do something upon which we could build in the future, so that we could begin to measure our progress. To do this we planned a Racism Workshop that was held September 5, the first week of class.

Our first decision last spring was to engage the help of a resource person. We began working with Rev. Daniel Buford of the People's Institute West in May and met with him several times. He is the one who provided us with the continuum chart we used and using it, he led us through some initial discussions that included faculty, staff, and especially students of color. He helped us to make sure we consulted representatives of the whole community, and created a conversation style in the planning meetings that allowed for people to share the difficult things we would need to address. This helped him and us to identify the place to begin our focus, and the most fruitful way to approach what we knew was going to be a short time together. We were able to gain a fairly accurate view of what issues were likely to surface at PSR.

Rev. Buford's experience working with a wide variety of similar institutions proved important as we prepared. For those thinking of initiating such a process, we strongly recommend working with someone from outside your institution. Even with our well trained people within, a highly experienced eye such as Rev. Buford's from outside saw more than we were willing or able to see on our own. He also met after the workshop with some of the small group leaders. It was at this meeting that he outlined the observations we have been sorting out since. Here again, without the outside eye, we would not have noticed some important aspects of our structure at PSR that get in the way of our work on racism.

The fact that this was a whole school event was important. It was planned and attended by students, faculty and staff. The school offices were closed so that faculty and staff could participate and the Field Education class was required to attend. Though the event was optional for other students, it was well advertized and a good number came. Attendance exceeded our expectations. From the small groups we gained a large amount of raw information about how people are experiencing the racial diversity at PSR and what is happening to the people of color in their experience here.

The goal was to create commitment from each participant to do four things in the next year, from their own setting in the school, to move PSR from the place that individual put us on the grid to the next level.

Many creative ideas were suggested and we are in the process of organizing them into categories and designing support mechanisms for those working on common goals. In the months that followed the event, we have done many things to support active anti-racism work at PSR. Barbara Essex and the Community Life Office has done a large part of the work. A film series organized with Todd Lesh serves to educate people about racism and provides a venue for people to discuss their experiences and things they might do. Barbara Essex along with a student, Motoe Yamada and Worship Professor Andrea Bieler also assist students in understanding the multi-racial, multi-cultural issues that arise in planning our chapel services through the Salamagundi discussion series. Odette Lockwood-Stewart in the field education office has kept students informed of opportunities in the wider GTU and church communities in the area for attending workshops, hearing speakers, and making resources available. Student Shinya Goto has surveyed the employment experience of international students at PSR with an eye to improvment. The PSR Trustees have a Racial and Cultural Sensitivity Committee charged with working on the issue from a broader institution-wide perspective.

In our reflections on the event so far, we have identified five general things that need attention, some from faculty and staff and some we think best lodged with the trustees (all of these questions could be asked as well regarding sexual orientation and even still with regard to women).

Anti-racism policies at PSR: We have policies on paper, but people do not know what they are. Where are these policies lodged? Who knows about them? How are they communicated to the community? And are they clear?

Our partner organizations How does PSR connect its policies about racial justice to those of the institutions, particularly the denominations, we serve and with which we interact. What are the denominational policies on racial justice and do the students, faculty and staff coming from those denominations know about them?

Anti-racism training for faculty and staff: Do the faculty and staff know that there are still things they do not know about racism? If so, how do we get them the training they need? Do faculty know strategies for dealing with racism that arises in classrooms? What is the procedure for orientation of new faculty and staff to PSR's policies and values about racial and cultural sensitivity? What are the criteria for hiring?

Student education and training: Is it possible for students to go to PSR and get a degree without taking courses from faculty of color? How well are we preparing students to be anti-racist leaders? How will we know we have made progress on this?

Institutionalizing anti-racism work: How do we know where we are on this issue as an institution? And how can we evaluate whether we have made progress? How does our organizational structure at PSR continue to contribute to the maintenance of white cultural privilege? How do we get the money we need to begin to attract a larger pool of under-represented groups to our student body and faculty?

These are big questions, and to some degree the PSR community has always been aware of them. But we now we have made a community-wide commitment to continue the work of transforming our shared life at PSR and thus enhancing the training of tomorrow's leaders.