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Volume 53 Number 3 Summer 2020
Notes from the President
Susan Torres-Harding, Roosevelt University
Currently as of this writing, the executive committee (EC) and I have acknowledged and taken up the challenge of responding to the open letter calling for changes to the organizational leadership and structure of SCRA to address white supremacy and integrate anti-racist action into our organization. This comes as part of the challenge and long overdue work in the U.S. to undo systemic and institutionalized racism and racial violence that has long jeopardized the lives and well-being of Black people. The murders of George Floyd and many others in recent days is, unfortunately, part of our continuing legacy of pain and oppression that everyone in our society needs to take responsibility to change. In particular, the call in both the letter and also in general in our society is for all people, especially non-Black people of color and White people, to engage in deep self-reflection regarding our part in enduring systems of oppression, and to take up the responsibility for change, both now and into the future. The many communications occurring on the listserv, including the calls for action, and organizing with our own communities, demonstrate that our members care deeply about working for real change, both with and external
to SCRA. Many of our members are actively engaged in doing so not only within SCRA but also within our own communities and within our professional and personal lives. As painful and difficult as this work is, I am glad to see the ideas and calling in amongst each other to do this work, and to also figure out how to effectively take collective action.
Unfortunately, the lack of responsiveness that has been observed by our members lays bare some of the existing structural problems within SCRA. Over the years, the organization has developed using a participatory, voluntary model—this means that the organization and the leadership, including the EC, consists almost completely entirely of volunteers, with almost no paid (less than 5 at any given time) positions anywhere in the entire organization to allow for protected time and energy. Our leadership structure has been developed to maintain the continuing operation of SCRA, with the majority of the work, initiatives, innovation, advocacy, and policy work coming from the membership, predominantly through the work of individual committees, interest groups, and councils, and from individual members.
This past year, on the EC, we ourselves questioned whether the leadership itself was functioning in a way that best served the needs of the organization, and whether the leadership group itself had grown in a way that was itself inefficient and/or slow to implement the agendas that we had set for ourselves in the past year. We questioned whether our structure impeded our desire to integrate diversity and inclusion broadly into the organization to a greater extent, as well as our desire to improve transparency and accountability for our members around how decision-making operated within SCRA. It is telling that even those on the EC questioned and did not fully understand what their roles were as leaders and as being part of the EC. Thus, in recent months, we embarked on a self-assessment of the EC using outside consultation. We hope to engage in
‘right-sizing’ of the leadership structure and to make changes that would improve our functioning and decision-making processes. We have discussed and continue to recognize the need for examining whether resources allocation, funded initiatives, and budgeting processing decisions were being made with critically important diversity and equity concerns across our organization.
The open letter to the EC brings into sharp relief these existing problems and resulting slow responsiveness. This call to action provides an additional and much-needed challenge to our organization to increasingly center Black scholarship and the voices and contributions of our Black and non-Black people of color, and to address past and existing wrongs and ongoing institutional practices that have been harmful to our Black members.
It is painful and extremely saddening to recognize how SCRA has continued to let our members down, and the ways in which I as president have also let people down and engaged in missteps and mistakes. However, it is very important to recognize these mistakes and to get a clear sense of the reality of the situation, and not engage in explaining things away by just saying, ‘well, that’s how it always has been done’, ‘it wasn’t intended that way’, ‘that’s just our history’, ‘we can’t change because of x, y, and z’, and keep going about business as usual. The reality is that we CAN change as an organization, and our members have told us that they want the structures and practices of SCRA to change in this way, to be a truly anti-racist organization, and not just one that sees this as one competing view among many within SCRA. This will take time, as with any structural change, but the leadership’s agenda for the coming year will be to institutionalize these changes. This will involve both using existing resources and carefully thinking our real current limitations in terms of both funding and the current leadership structure. We can prioritize what we can do now by moving around existing resources, and creatively working through how we can build resources and capacities to be able to transform the organization the way that want and build long-term sustainability.
Most importantly, the open letter challenged us to think through who will make through these decisions—SCRA has never had a formal process of examining representation in our leadership structures, in our nominations for positions, for awards, or for resource distributions, and so strategies to more fully reach out and invite participation from all members while paying attention to diversity of representation is very important and will be implemented. I am very hopeful that we as an organization will be able to institute these long overdue changes and work towards these critically important goals in the coming months.