"We must become an inclusive community of welcome, equity, and justice that goes beyond hospitality and fairness."
—Luther College Strategic Plan 2018-2023
On August 19, 2020, forty-eight Luther faculty and staff members gathered online for a workshop titled “Confronting Pandemics: Building Culturally Responsive Education.” The goal of this workshop was to increase awareness of racism as a deadly pandemic that we must dismantle just as we seek to eradicate the COVID-19 virus. At Luther College, we aim to dismantle institutional racism through engaged inclusivity (institutional change rooted in the belief that diversity strengthens our community), resulting in a transformation of institutional policies and practices that sustain racial inequities.
The Luther community has long engaged in equity work, but there is much more to do. Goal 3 of our strategic plan “Inspired. Empowered. Engaged. Luther College Strategic Plan 2018-2023” states that “Luther College will be a community that champions inclusive excellence as a core value,” and this summer President Ward articulated a series of action steps by which students, faculty, and staff will combat institutional racism and “seek justice, equity, and peace.” In the Confronting Pandemics workshop faculty and staff looked at national demographic data as well as data about the racial makeup of Luther students and how well the College retains students of various racialized groups. Such data demonstrates clearly that a healthy, sustainable future depends upon making Luther a community where all students, but Black, Latinx, Asian, and indigenous identifying students in particular, can thrive and succeed.
We asked workshop participants to identify narratives that have prevented us from creating an equity based campus and to articulate visions of an ideal and equitable campus. We identified resources and actions that we need to get there. Faculty and staff want more resources and information about white privilege, for example. We want to focus on becoming anti-racist and pursue equity rather than equality. Faculty and staff expressed interest in more workshops and training for all.
The final segment of the workshop asked faculty and staff members to discuss particular action steps to which they will personally commit in the coming months. Here is a sample of action items that workshop participants generated:
- I plan to include discussion of equity and inclusion in training new student workers in my office.
- I will share my fall course syllabi with my workshop small group to get feedback on the documents’ language, tone, and any underlying assumptions about students that may be deficit-minded.
- I will be working on a project related to inclusion and equity in Luther study abroad programs.
- I plan to talk with students at the beginning of the term about intent versus impact in classroom discussions.
- I will be reviewing campus facilities and resources to determine how to make them more accessible to all students.
- I will be more intentional about learning students’ names.
- I will create more inclusive headlines and content in media.
- I will work to get equity minded general education passed, emphasize equity in program reductions.
- I will create a working group for white faculty who want to examine, confront, and transform their own complicity with institutional racism and white supremacy.
- I will work on my own biases and defensive strategies that emerge in classroom dialogue and in work with students.
This fall the health and well-being of the Luther community requires our taking individual and collective action to combat two viruses that threaten our work together. Even as we take steps to combat the Coronavirus, we must remember that racism is a pandemic with a much longer and deadlier history than COVID-19. Racial inequities will continually infect and weaken our community unless we work conscientiously to dismantle them and to pursue engaged inclusivity for every individual member.