In the previous segments of this series, we framed the challenges for a systemic approach to DEI considering the visible & invisible parts of this work. The goal is a framework for planning and implementing the work so we make substantial & sustainable progress toward greater equity. Read the framing of the approach here, and then here are the links to the descriptions of Quadrant 1 (strategic+explicit), Quadrant 2 (strategic-implicit), Quadrant 3 (programmatic-implicit). Now we will delve into the visible & programmatic implementation of programs.
You’ve started a plan and built alignment. People are open enough to do this work. What’s next? Quadrant 4 is the most actionable and visible part of this framework; as such, it is the most public portion of your DEI initiative. Note that the success of these programs will be very much dependent on the successful completion of work in the first three quadrants. If this visible, actionable work is well-supported by the other quadrants, your DEI programming will have a significant impact for your community.
Programming/Explicit: In this zone, the work is about teaching concepts, behaviors, vocabulary, and/or re-enforcing equitable norms.
Key elements: Ethnic, Cultural, and Religious Awareness days/months, affinity groups, curriculum around how systems have been built and sustained / historical and global studies around inequities, curriculum integration (bringing cultural & equity concepts into every discipline), cultural awareness / travel / service programs, teaching of new vocabulary (e.g. meaning of antiracism, equity, justice, allyship). Training, coaching & support for educators, leaders, allies on this knowledge.
What’s helpful: The explicit programming is where DEI work is most visible and can show immediate results. People who’ve been silenced or marginalized have space to come forward. New vocabulary and knowledge provides specific frameworks for seeing what perpetuates inequities and offers models for new ways of engaging. This work is familiar in educational contexts because it fits with what is normally considered the role of school (growing content knowledge).
What’s risky: Because this quadrant is the most actionable and visible, it’s often regarded as “the work” of DEI, rather than one of four quardrants. Too much focus here creates an emphasis on using the words (‘sounding woke’) which, ironically, can become compliance-oriented and polarizing when it’s not sufficiently grounded by the inner work. Without sufficient attention to the top-two quadrants, this programming becomes episodic or “flavor of the month” and remains under-resourced and short-term leaving the lead or point person responsible for the success or failure of the effort.
Questions to Discuss
- In our various stakeholder groups, how are we centering the voice(s) of people who have DEI knowledge and skills?
- Where in our existing programming can cultural competence be highlighted and strengthened, and how can we take action this year?
- What are the “critical few” missing tools and skills we need to bring to each stakeholder group this year and how can we best grow those?
In each of the four quadrants, we’ve identified opportunities and traps, or obstacles. Working too much or too little in any one of the four quadrants will make those challenges escalate.
How to Get Out of the Traps… and Move Forward
The obvious answer is: Do all four. This is nontrivial, though, as most people working in this space will tend to focus on one or two of the quadrants. We all have our frames of reference, favorite tools, and strengths — and so we tend to focus on those aspects. In a space inundated with threat and marginalization, it’s all-too-easy to fuel insecurity and for people to feel big feelings. To cope, it’s human nature to hold onto what we know and to dig into the approaches that we’ve personally found helpful.
Here are three powerful questions to discuss the matrix:
- To what degree are we balancing these four dimensions?
- What leaders or groups are (going to be) the main driver in each area?
- How do we ensure that the drivers of each area are aligned so all four quadrants work together, rather than in opposition?
Use the dimensions of this matrix as a tool for planning an action. For example, suppose a faculty team decides there should be a book club. Schools typically would jump into Q4 deciding on the logistics. Instead:
Start with Q1, asking, “Why? How does this fit with the three-year plan, how will we measure the impact?”
Then go to Q2, considering, “Who can we engage, and how can we use this to build connectedness?”
Continue to Q3: “How will it work so people participate in a way that helps them grow?”
Then finally Q4: “What are we going to read first?”
The key is balance. We won’t solve cultural transformation challenges with policies disconnected from engagement. We won’t learn about new horizons only through introspection. Yet when we bring these dimensions together, we have policies, groups, individuals, and content working together to catalyze transformation.
Part 2: Quadrant 1: Strategy/Explicit — The school focuses on strategy and metrics.
Part 3: Quadrant 2: Strategy/Implicit — The school focuses on building relationships within the community.
Part 4: Quadrant 3: Programming/Implicit — The school focuses on the “heart work” — developing inner resources.
Part 5: Quadrant 4: Programming/Explicit — The school focuses on teaching concepts, behaviors, and skills.