I want to reflect on our efforts to promote DEIBJ in our schools and ask for your input and suggestions.
I need to start by acknowledging my privilege. I am a white, cisgender, married, protestant woman. I come from an upper-middle-class family. Many things I enjoy now result from generations of accumulated wealth, much off the backs of marginalized groups. My school is built on land taken from the Anishinaabe Three Fires Confederacy, specifically the Odawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi peoples.
Recently, at school, we had an alarming post on social media. On the Monday before Spring Break, a 9th-grade boy thought it okay to post a video full of hate speech. The administration spoke with him and put him on disciplinary watch. On Wednesday of that week, the student posted a similar video.
Students, faculty, and academic staff gathered for an update on Thursday. The administration (President, Provost, DEI Director, and Residental life director) stood and addressed the issues. Afterward, they invited the students to the stage if they had any questions. Students began asking questions from the floor. It was my first time seeing students stand up for themselves in a DEI environment. I was thrilled for them and excited about what this could mean for our community.
After the break, we gathered again in a town-hall meeting, where all were encouraged to speak. Many students of all races, religions, and identities spoke out. We were so proud of their bravery.
For me, this incident has brought so much to the surface. You can substitute any marginalized group for the specific racial attack here. Am I doing enough? How does the library share marginalized groups’ struggles at our schools? This op-ed piece in the Detroit Free Press moved me. In it, Alemu says:
Solidarity means finding ways to relinquish the privilege that makes your whiteness inconsequential and my Blackness fatally consequential. Here I’m inspired by the words of the Australian Aborigine activist, Lilla Watson: “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Put another way, if you want to stand in solidarity with African Americans, then let it not be only because you want to save Black lives from our burden of oppression but rather because the consequences of your daily privilege on Black lives have become a burden you can no longer bear.
I have been a DEI advocate for many years. My collections have been through DEI audits, internal and external. My displays are varied, and my influence grows each week. Students appreciate my knowledge of our resources and see the library as a safe space.
I’m feeling a need for some fresh ideas to help make a difference here. So, how can we awaken our library approach to DEIBJ? Do you have any suggestions? Programs that have worked, ways to help our communities “see” into the issues, things that help raise awareness and spark conversations? Exciting ways to make inroads with your community?
I look forward to your suggestions and comments.
Warmly (its 39° here),
Thank you for this thoughtful post. I especially love Lilla Watson’s words and the idea that we must examine our own intent as well as actions.
One idea I have employed is bringing in diverse authors as speakers. For everything from World Read Aloud Day to author visits on zoom or guest speakers at school, I strive to have a plethora of voices for students to hear/see/experience.
I look forward to other suggestions as well.
I think the main thing is using your voice outside the library as well as inside of it. Inside it: collection dev, author visits, booktalks and book recommendations and displays, etc. Provide safe spaces for kids to meet, and facilitate those spaces/discussions if it makes sense. Provide space for adults to meet/talk, and facilitate if it makes sense.
Outside the library: volunteer like crazy to be on any committee or attend any discussion that might even tangentially include DEI, as much as your schedule allows. Be thoughtfully noisy. Read up on best ways to be an ally and incorporate those into those meetings/conversations. Find colleagues who are also interested and find ways to meet and brainstorm and hold each other accountable when needed. We had an anti-racism group for a few years that met every other week. I didn’t lead it at all, but being a member was super educational for me and helped me link up with colleagues who care about doing the work. It shifted into a different format and meets less regularly, and I miss that space and am thinking about trying to set up something similar again, even if informally.
I’m part of the DEI leadership team at our school so sometimes what I do overlaps or is a consequence of that work such as providing space for student focus groups to talk to leaders among faculty/staff/admin about issues so that marginalized voices and concerns can be heard.
Besides what you mentioned, some things we do as part of library work are to use our Instagram account to lift up Black voices on all of our Tuesday posts for the past few years and continuing into the future (in the past we did this, but were less intentional about the timing); provide space for student affinity/alliance club exhibits or let clubs choose books for a specific display; feature diverse student voices in our Leadership Lunch series where students are interviewed by peers for student body and faculty (some recently featured are Korean Culture Club, LatinX Club, BSU; GSA); bring diverse speakers and authors to present in the library (sometimes as an assembly for all and other times for specific classes). We keep a cabinet in our office filled with granola bars and other food for any students who might have missed breakfast or lunch or are just hungry. In the past, we have collaborated with the Black Student Union for an open mic poetry reading during Black History Month. In the future, I intend to follow the lead of a colleague and purchase food from diverse local businesses (being sure to make it known to the audience); lead a book club with parents using one of our summer diversity reads; provide a food-free space, perhaps with games/puzzles, for students at lunchtime during Ramadan; and try to find ways to involve some of our alumni of color in library events. I’d also like to collaborate with our Learning Specialist to be more intentional about how we support our students with different abilities.
Thank you for writing this post. I was just thinking the other day about how to expand what we do in the library around DEIB. Just like you, I’m looking forward to reading the comments here. I hope your community continues to grow and learn and heal from this sad incident that could happen at any of our schools.