Caucusing Toward Justice

Caucusing Toward Justice
By Dian Squire, ACPA 2018 Convention Equity & Inclusion Chair

Throughout the ACPA18 Convention, over 1000 attendees engaged in identity-based caucusing. In hosting caucuses for the first time at an ACPA convention, this opportunity was a great success overall! These guided caucus sessions provided necessary and important opportunities for growth and reflection for ACPA members of all racialized and politicized identities. As a result of caucusing, members:

  1. explored a deeper understanding of their own racial/political identities;
  2. connected with colleagues to engage in solidarity work toward racial justice and decolonization;
  3. engaged with issues of power, privilege, and oppression in order to interrupt dominance, and
  4. began to individually and collectively develop strategies that moved the self and field toward liberation and social change.

For each caucus session, ACPA attendees self-selected into groups based on racial/ethnic/Native/Indigenous/Aboriginal identity and met over the course of three one-hour blocks to discuss the intersections of identity, power, privilege, oppression, and domination as it relates to their work in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Caucus spaces were created in response to feedback received during ACPA17 when the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization was unveiled to the general membership. That feedback has been publicly available since March 2017 and was part of the impetus for creating this unique opportunity.

In this first year, caucuses were modeled off of similar work that takes place at the White Privilege Conference and the Social Justice Training Institute (SJTI), as each caucus had either a volunteer facilitator and/or moderator. The decision to have volunteer facilitators in White spaces reflected the calls from scholars like our opening keynote speaker, Robin DiAngelo, for White people to hold other White people accountable to do difficult racial justice work. Facilitators provided guidance for White members to disengage with their White fragility and White guilt in order to move toward racial justice.

Groups for all members who did not select a White caucus were supported by room moderators who were asked to provide logistical support for those spaces and to answer general questions. The decision to not provide formal facilitators was rooted in the intention to avoid additional taxation of peers of color so all members could engage in each healing space as needed. We understand, however, that some participants in the caucus sessions for peers of color felt that these sessions would have benefitted from having a facilitator as well. These spaces were intended for members to do similar work around racial justice and decolonization; however, these were also spaces for healing. All groups were provided with similar guided questions focused on racial justice and decolonization.

Undoubtedly, the work is messy, difficult, and imperfect and each member responded differently to the conversations their groups facilitated. In order to support attendees, these non-paid volunteer facilitators and moderators were provided with training on how to support members. Additionally, information for a free online-based counseling service was available on signage around the caucusing space and on the ACPA18 website.  The mental health of our members is of the utmost importance and continual development around understandings of the racialized and politicized self will continue.

Importantly, caucuses were organized by members, for members as a space for attendees to both hold one other accountable to engaging in racial justice and decolonization, and as a place to heal from the injustices of the world. Entity groups were consulted in April 2017 after which the structure for caucus sessions was decided based on consultation with those groups and colleagues working with SJTI.  Information and learning outcomes related to caucusing was available on the ACPA Convention website several months prior to convention and emails sent to members monthly elevating the opportunity and urging members to engage each other in this space. Additionally, to prepare all members for caucusing, we created a Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization Caucus Syllabus that has been publicly available and open access since January 2018.

As the ACPA18 Convention team reflects back onto the caucuses, we believe they were a great success. Anecdotal narratives from White colleagues tell us they were pushed to think deeply, challenged by the words of our keynote speaker and, because of the facilitator setup, were held accountable to return multiple days. Other colleagues noted they were able to meet new people, have conversations beginning the healing process, and were challenged about their place in engaging in racial justice and decolonization action.  Many others noted this was a space of gathering and reflection.

Although, caucusing was an overall success, it was also our first time attempting an opportunity of this size. As ACPA19 picks up where we left off, they will continue to reflect on the developmental positions of all of our members and think about ways to diversify the opportunities to engage in caucusing based on member knowledge and understanding of one’s position in doing racial justice and decolonization work. They will also think about the role of facilitators and moderators and where and how those people will engage and support members. There are also conversations to be had about logistics such as caucus-group size, spaces for people with multiple racialized/politicized identities including our multi-racial colleagues, and ensuring that members show up to all three days of caucusing as intended. Lastly, they will continue to provide education prior to convention not just about racial justice and decolonization, but also about the purposes of caucusing and preparing people to engage in those spaces authentically.

We are excited to learn more about how our members experienced caucusing from convention evaluations and to think about how to provide enhanced experiences for ACPA19 in Boston, MA, USA on 3 March-6 March 2019.

We hope you’ll consider joining us in Boston and continue the work we all must do to build a more just higher education system! Members can register with a reduced ADVANCED discounted rate now through 13 July, 2018.

Dian is a visiting assistant professor in the student affairs program. Prior to starting at Iowa State University, Dian was a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Denver’s Interdisciplinary Research Institute for the Study of (in)Equality (IRISE). Dian’s research focuses on issues of diversity, equity, and justice in higher education. He utilizes organizational perspectives to help explain individual behavior and experience in order to transform organizational structures to support equity and justice. Dian was the Chair for Equity & Inclusion for ACPA18.

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