Confronting the Racism Pandemic

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

"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.

Demonstrators condemn racism and demand justice for Black lives. (New York City, June 4, 2020)

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Comments

  • September 3 2020 at 11:39 am
    Hannah Gross - ‘20

    I am very intrigued by not only the title of this training but the content as well. It is my hope that this training and these new found resources are not just a one time approach, but that there could be some sort of all faculty and staff check-in periodically throughout the year coming back to the content and posing a few questions along the lines of, "What action item(s), if any at all, have you implemented from this training into your role at Luther College? How?"

    I agree that it is important to have trainings like this, but I also think that this is not another training to check off of the list for a new school year either. Anti-racism work is a process, and trainings/resources/conversations/etc. surrounding the topic of dismantling racism need to be constantly revisited in order to truly create change. I believe in you Luther! I believe in us! We can do this work, together! We can be better together.

  • September 3 2020 at 12:21 pm
    Guy D. Nave

    Thanks, Hannah! Yes, "we can do this work TOGETHER"!! As an alumnus, continue to make your voice/suggestions heard and continue to demand and expect Luther to do ALL that we can to help dismantle racism on campus, in Decorah, and in society.

  • September 3 2020 at 3:52 pm
    Ross Hadley

    Taking advantage of the cultural acceptance of online learning and the strong value most alumni put on life long learning, I would be very pleased if Luther would also offer their Alumni base the opportunity to learn together via Engage Inclusivity.   We are a strong community and with continued education can promote cultural change in our own physical locations along with better tools to demonstrate value of continued learning and the importantance of equity in our society.   

     

     

  • September 3 2020 at 6:11 pm
    Char Kunkel

    Thanks Hannah and Ross, we definitely can do better together.  And including alum is a great idea.  We are committed to continuing the conversation and will keep on doing the work... Join us!

  • September 4 2020 at 8:56 am
    Heidi Skildum 08, Spanish and English educator

    It is a fact that primary and secondary educators in the United States are majority white and female, even in diverse, urban areas.  Can Luther make it possible for future BiPOC educators to get their degrees while not coming out of college with debt?  

  • September 4 2020 at 1:29 pm
    David Thompson

    Muchas gracias por tu comentario, Heidi. Financial aid policies and student loan debt are equity matters that require careful examination and sustained attention in order to remove barriers that disproportionately impede Black, Latinx, and other students of color from continuing their education and graduating. Review of financial aid policies and practices is happening now at Luther and, like other antiracism and equity work, will require "sustained and disciplined attention" (https://www.luther.edu/president/speeches/?story_id=914465).

    We appreciate the feedback from our alumni community, their participation in engaged inclusivity, and their holding us accountable to enact change.

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