Commitments to Anti-Racism

Commitments to Anti-Racism

The Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies (RLS) has a responsibility to pay attention to past and current injustice and racism, to confront it, and to actively participate in the creation of a more fair and equitable society.

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For those who defer, the habit can place the accountability that is all of ours to bear onto select people – and, more often than not, a hyper-sanitized and thoroughly fictional caricature of them.  – Olúfémi O. Táíwò

About the RLS Anti-Racism Faculty Collective

RLS Anti-Racism Faculty Collective Logo

Our journey

Our department is one of the smallest on this University’s campus. We are 18 faculty, 3 staff, and 742 students strong. We began our anti-racism journey as a faculty collective in January of 2021. We were keenly aware that making checklists to “be anti-racists" would serve agendas that reflected the appearance of doing anti-racism work, yet we felt those commitments and obligations would not have the staying power for which we longed. Instead, we focused our efforts on an inward examination to hear, understand, and describe the hopes of our faculty to commit to and enact anti-racism on an individual and everyday basis. To do this, we considered Anzuldua’s Bridgework and Maholtra and Perez’s (2005) framework with the vision that we would eventually serve as bridges to three key areas: consciousness, community, and power.

What we’ve done and what we’re doing

To do “fundamentally different” (Jones, 2021) diversity, equity and inclusion work and address the productive tensions occurring in collegial dialogue, we leaned into finding a way to heal and/or engage with the ongoing demands for change. We decided to heed the charge, a collective statement put forth by Leisure Studies Associations around the world and engage in work needed to ensure we were supporting the fullest humanity of our faculty and students. To develop a starting position, we distributed a two-question survey to faculty: 1) share what you are already doing in your teaching, service, and research activities to facilitate anti-racist conversations, action, and advocacy; and 2) with the knowing that anti-racist practices are complicated at every turn, what tensions can we, as a department, commit to holding? Together, we worked towards crafting commitment statements that would eventually serve as our collective “consciousness” and the foundation on which all our future anti-racism work would stand. Over several meetings and consultations, our collective developed our commitment statements.

In the Spring term of 2021, Marcus Pereira was hired through PART funding to support the Anti-Racism Faculty Collective’s work. Under Dr. Lisbeth Berbary’s supervision, he developed the anti-racism website with the resources you see now. In addition to completing two environmental scans (on University Honorarium policies and Anti-Racism Commitments at other universities), he also committed to supporting social media to share key events, dates, people, readings, and any updates from our group. We’ve adjusted our honorarium practices resulting from Marcus’s environmental scan and continue to make progress through our ongoing work.

Following from Marcus' shared leadership, our Department has prioritized engaging a co-op student in this work each term. Karan Sahota joined our team in the Fall of 2021 as the second coop student to take up this work. Currently he is working with Dr. Kimberly Lopez towards an infographic for existing/upcoming student reporting processes in place for filing complaints for acts of hate, discrimination, or prejudice to simplify the complaint filing process, anti-racism social media content (including interviews with faculty, graduate students, undergrads doing work on anti-racism and useful campus updates on broader anti-racism initiatives), website resource updates with emphasis on BIPOC mental health content on main page.

We want to emphasize that we would not have done any of this work without our co-op students. 

Two lessons are coming to light 

1. Despite its good intentions, anti-racism work is incompatible with the current service structure and faculty complement.  

Our department is supportive, collegial, and kind. We feel it is one of the best departmental cultures to do anti-racism work. The literature is mixed. BIPOC persons are asked to simultaneously engage and not engage in anti-racism work. It truly is an impossible decision. Add the structural expectations of a U15/R1 institution, it makes for very difficult considerations that are often not weighed by individuals who feel they don’t need to be invested in this change.  

Work to be done: Performance structure and service work expectations need adjustment, particularly for those who are made precarious by underrepresentation; need for graduate supervision for BIPOC individuals taking up anti-racism work; need to inform major systemic change; and need to challenge conventional expectations for “productive” scholarship. Compensation for students helping with faculty and student anti-racism work is needed to support these initiatives. 

2. Anti-Racism isn’t measured by modules, book clubs, or proclamations. 

As a field, Leisure Studies has taken up a charge to create a culture of anti-oppression. Individuals are tasked within their own powers to effect the change needed to meet the criteria of this charge. Too often we lean on checklists and milestones to be the marker of change. This liberal exercise is often a futile one and, for those who feel disconnected or unaffected by these “issues,” often met with indifference at best and protest or active harm at worse. The capital “I” institution needs a CULTURE change where anti-racism committees feel they are supported at all turns and can flourish in the work they do rather than the feeling that they’re “fighting” for the change that’s needed—but never comes, leaving us with overwhelming exhaustion, and ultimately, burnout.   

Work to be done: It is clear to us that a campus infrastructure is required to combat the existing systemic racism through enhancing representation across all levels of the institution, education, policy, and support. This culture change process could start with developing a framework, language, culture, etc. where people feeling “marginalized” by anti-racism work no longer do feel left out of the conversation. We must address inaction and indifference as harm towards BIPOC faculty and students. Engage in institutional culture change to address fractures at the foundation towards building a relational community COLLECTIVELY built on justice and liberatory politics.  

We draw on Jones’s (2021) talk to culminate my thoughts on anti-racism work in the academy and hope that PART and others are supported in thinking through these considerations.

Commitments and responsibilities

The following commitments serve as an anchor statement for all of our relations and activities (research, teaching, and service) in RLS and beyond, including the actions of the Anti-Racism Faculty Collective. While our commitments will be modelled by faculty, the intent is to draw graduate and undergraduate students in as partners who will also lead with our commitments in mind (or already embody this orientation and thus, feel enabled and supported by our department).

  1. We acknowledge systemic oppression is real and acts in ways that are dismissive, harmful, and violent to individuals affected by intersectional oppressions.
  2. We refuse to let fragility, self-soothing, or mere performative allyship hinder learning, action, and support for individuals within our RLS community.
  3. We refuse to ignore accumulated erasures that perpetuate inequitable opportunities for personal development.
  4. We privilege our relations with each other, the community at large, and the environment guided by love, care, resource sharing, and action.
  5. We value dialogue as praxis in strengthening our bridges to community and in creating bridges to power in relation(s) with those unjustly targeted by status quo. We are responsible for our justice-seeking efforts and hold a process of mutual accountability among us all as the driving force for our relations and action.
  6. We enact hope for change by strengthening practices that take a stand against systemic injustice by refusing indifference, discrimination, and hate.
  7. Above all else, we value difference, well-being, and the fullest expression of self; and work to dismantle barriers in our learning environments that pose hinderances to these values.

With these commitments, folks who work in RLS recognize that our commitments will always be entangled with structures and oppressions that act with racism (e.g., colonization, sexism, capitalism). In being anti-racist, we strive to acknowledge and challenge these oppressions in our steadfast commitment to anti-racist efforts.


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