The Gift of Caucuses

As I think about my time at the ACPA18 Convention, I am excited to spend time in the identity-based caucus. For me, it is time to explore how racism, white supremacy, and colonization are within me, to learn more about how I invest in maintaining them, and to build community around dismantling the system.

I know and acknowledge that my ancestors stole land, colonized peoples, participated in and benefited from slavery, lied, murdered, raped, and destroyed families. And, if it wasn’t specifically my family, it was my people: White people. The trauma they wrought, and the resultant feeling of superiority, is inside of me, within my fiber and soul.

Acknowledging this is difficult, and doing so is essential both to my wellbeing and for how we change the system. As Howard Zinn reminds us, you can’t be neutral on a moving train, and being a good person is not enough to offset our legacy or to stop oppression.

Participating in caucuses is part of how I create offsets and plant seeds for a better world. It is hard work most of the time, but I feel like I am creating a new legacy in my ancestral line, role modeling new ways of being for my kids, and helping define new ways of practice in student affairs.

I am excited for ACPA18 because I know I need to spend more time dismantling racism, white supremacy, and colonization and I get to practice. It is a time where I also hope for healing and liberation.

I am excited because we, as an association, have not engaged with racism, white supremacy, colonization, healing, and liberation at this level before. This is our opportunity to acknowledge the ways racism, white supremacy, colonization are built into the organization and to make structural changes. It is also our chance to align our behavior with our values

My experience in race-based caucuses over the years has been collectively powerful and transformative. Yet individual caucuses have been, at times, difficult and painful as I confronted how white supremacy lives within me; and at other times, celebratory as I began to see some impact of my radical work. But most importantly, I wasn’t alone. I was part of building a community, one focused on justice.

Caucusing requires deep levels of authenticity and vulnerability from each individual. It can be scary to confront how oppression lives within us (or sit with the reflection from another that it does), and it requires our courage. I have learned in my time, and in working with others, that the act of dismantling racism, white supremacy, and colonization from ourselves brings an existential crisis in the philosophic sense. When we look deeply, we see that who we are (our identity) is wrapped up in racism, white supremacy, and colonization–we are one and the same–and we have no knowing of how to exist in any other way. Further, confronting how we are invested in this system is not hard because it all feels wrong; it is hard because it all feels so right.

This is the gift: it is only until we acknowledge and own that racism, white supremacy, and colonization exists because we exist that we can begin to do something about it.

This is the required element that allows us to be in relationship and community with others. This deep work is trustmaking. I begin to build trust when I show up first and role model authenticity and vulnerability. I have learned that people will respond. No matter how much I do on my own, we have no hope of healing and liberation unless we are working together in group and cross-groups. But we can’t work together until we first build trust through our deep work.

There is no path for this (yet), and as Antonio Machado reminds us: “Cominante no hay camino, se trace el camino al andar” or “Traveler, there is no road. The road is made as one walks.”

Caucusing is an act of resistance. It is part of the inner work required to do our outer work. Caucusing is transformative. And, for those of us who are White or present as White, caucusing is part of how we “keep our library card active” (Olajiwan McCadney, 2018).

Caucusing is the best way to explore our internalized dominance and internalized subordination and make this a part of our everyday language. Racism, white supremacy, colonization, and other forms of oppression are always in the room, and our language, thought patterns, and ways of being are informed by them. Revealing how oppression sits within us and speaking about it is how we begin to pull it apart.

Caucusing is how we can build community around justice, help create spaces of compassion, dialogue, and healing. It is where we can deepen feelings of trust and belonging, and build a foundation for liberation. Tanya Williams and I have a session on 13 March, 2018 at 3 PM called “Healing the System Within: Reconciling Our Internalized Dominance and Subordination” if you want to engage further.

When we are intentionally conscious of and actively resistant to the internalized oppression that exists within us, we act to really create change.

Caucusing is borne out of our love for each other and opportunities for growth and connection. I hope you will be courageous and join us at the ACPA18 Convention. This is the individual and systems work we need to do within the Association, within Higher Education, and within our country. It will be difficult as we examine our relationship with racism, white supremacy, colonization, and it has the potential to start the next 100 years of our association with healing and justice. Caucusing may not be the gift you or I want, or are ready for, but it is very much the gift we need.

Note: I am grateful to those who gave me gifts in my caucusing and self-development: Kathy Obear, Beth Yohe, Ben Neale, Noelle Cochran, Stephanie Bondi, Lance Wright, Tricia Smith, Justin Lincks, becky martinez, Mamta Accapadi, Tanya O. Williams, Kathy Sisneros, Robert Brown, Shruti Desai, Dan Ocampo, Kirsten Edwards, Vijay Kanagala, Uyen Tran, Carmen Rivera, Sam Offer, Vernon Wall, and Jamie Washington. I would not be who I am without your reflections or investments.


Craig Elliott, Ph.D. works as the Assistant Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services and Assistant Professor at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA, and whose research interests explore white caucus work, feminism and masculinity, transformative learning, inclusion and equity, institutional and systems change, and dismantling white supremacy. Craig is also a trainer and consultant on equity and inclusion. Craig serves ACPA as a member of the Foundation Board and as Vice President-Elect. He has been married over 20 years to Nicole and is father to Jackson and Thomas. He loves soccer, art, music, time with his family, and really good, strong coffee.

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