Bridging Learning and Doing: Updates on Antiracism and Anti-Oppression Reviews at CCESL

By: Anne P. DePrince, CCESL Director, Professor of Psychology

The summer months for an office like CCESL stay busy with an extraordinary amount of planning for the year ahead. As we simultaneously finish up internal evaluations of programs from the previous academic year, we integrate what we learned from the previous year into planning for the year ahead.

This year, we also made systematic antiracism and anti-oppression program reviews part of our planning.

Our team developed a review process based on readings (e.g., How to be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram Kendi) and trainings (e.g., Denver Public Library Symposium on Advancing Racial Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace) that we did together. We then worked program-by-program to review materials, from web content and communications to application forms, selection processes, and program activities.

Importantly, each review gave us the opportunity to identify points where people might be excluded from programs based on things that are irrelevant or not central to the program itself. Next, we sought solutions for those problem points.

For example, we reviewed the Public Good Fund through which CCESL supports faculty community-engaged research and creative work. The fund has been in existence since 2001 and the application process is refined in modest ways each year. This new review process revealed ways that faculty who had more experience writing grants might be benefitted in the application process, thereby making it more likely that people without previous experience get excluded over time. This observation was important because there’s nothing in the Public Good Fund’s design that is meant to benefit faculty who have previous experience writing grants. In fact, these funds can be essential for faculty in building capacity to apply for external grants supporting their community-engaged work. Therefore, we made revisions to the application process to minimize the chance of excluding scholars with less prior grant writing experience.

We identified other issues that are perhaps more complex to address. For example, community-engaged methods prioritize the co-production of knowledge. This means that a hallmark of good community-engaged work is community partner collaboration from the design of the project through the eventual communication of results. Beyond this broad generalization, what that collaboration looks like can vary greatly from partnership to partnership and project to project. That variation, in turn, can affect something as simple (seeming) as an application process. For instance, we asked ourselves questions about whether the co-production of knowledge should mean that proposals should be co-written by community partners rather than written only by faculty. That question was balanced by the reality that community partners aren’t paid by DU to do the work of writing proposals for community-engaged research and creative work.

This line of questioning didn’t lead us to change who writes the application (the faculty member still does!), but did lead us to revise some approaches to community voice in the grant proposal process. For instance, we realized that asking for a letter of support from community partners was vague and might lead to organizations varying in the amount of time and effort required, depending on how they interpreted the ambiguous ask. Also, we realized the selection committee doesn’t need a letter of support in the general sense to evaluate the rigor of the community-engaged methods. Instead, the committee needs to know whether collaboration is baked into the project, from start to end. The revised application process now asks for a short letter of collaboration from community partners.

The list goes on of issues and questions that the review process revealed, many of which led to actionable changes that we’ve made in launching this year’s Public Good Fund Request For Proposals.

To keep ourselves accountable going forward, we’ve also added a note to our program web pages so that you can see when our last antiracist, anti-oppression review happened and the changes we made based on that review. Click here to check out the Public Good Fund example today!

And if you’re a faculty member doing community-engaged research or creative work, I hope you’ll consider applying for funding. If you want to learn more about the fund and application process, join me and Cara DiEnno for an information session on Thursday, October 22nd from 1:30-2:00 PM. Stay tuned for more information on how to how to join the info session remotely.

Editor’s Note: CCESL’s statement affirming antiracist work for racial equity and justice is available here.

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