Designing Ourselves for Racial Justice
This quarter I have had the opportunity to take my first class via Stanford’s d.school. This class, “Designing (Ourselves) for Racial Justice”, or D(o)4RJ as we abbreviate it, has been one of the most impactful classes I’ve taken at Stanford. I felt excited to get to show up for our 3 hour Zoom lectures every Tuesday and Thursday, and am really grateful to the teaching team (Louie Montoya, Jess Brown, and sam siedel) for all their work in creating such a useful and inspiring class experience. In this blog, I will explain some of the activities we did during the class (grouped under themes) and reflect on my experiences with them and in the class as a whole.
Who am I?
The teaching team facilitated activities like the Paseo protocol, identity zines, and story circles to help us reflect on who we are and to get to know each other more deeply. Here is a protocol that explains the purpose of the Paseo (in short, to reflect on and share our identities) and how to facilitate it. Below is one part of my identity zine, where we reflected on the origins of our names. We also did the 100k Mask challenge from Ever Forward as part of the identity zine project, an activity that asks you to think about the image you project to the world compared to how you really feel inside.
As a White woman, I haven’t always reflected as much on my racial identity as on my identity as a woman. It was difficult at first to talk about my identities with new people, and to do activities like the story circle. For this activity, we were each asked to speak for 5 minutes straight on the following prompt:
“Tell a story about an experience or dream you have had that has helped shape your understanding of what racial justice is or feels like.”
However, as the class continued on, I felt much more at home with my classmates and teaching team. I was honored to get to hear their stories, and touched by their support for mine.
In retrospect it seems silly, but coming into this course I felt some of the worst imposter syndrome out of all my time at Stanford. As a relative latecomer to working for racial justice, I wasn’t sure if I would belong or if I would inadvertently say the wrong thing or reveal my many blindspots. I wasn’t certain it was even appropriate to apply to the class, but I decided to trust the instructors to make the right decisions for the class composition.
I liked that this class was framed as a brave space, rather than a safe space, because this rings true. While the bravery and resilience that White people need to cultivate for racial justice work is not on the same scale as that required by those who face the direct consequences of racism and white supremacy, it is nonetheless important to speak to the fact that getting involved can feel scary and uncertain, especially at first, but it is entirely worth it.
What fuels me?
We followed Charlotte Burgess-Auburn’s Nearpod Manifesto Activity to each create a personal manifesto. This collage now hangs above my desk to act as a visual reminder of what areas of justice work I am invested in, why I am invested in these areas, and how I strive to show up in pursuing justice in these area. I really enjoyed the chance to create a visual representation of what drives me. I lost track of time hunting down and connecting all the right words and fragments and decorative elements out of the packet of materials that we were provided with.
We also did an activity related to self care, which is an important part of making justice work sustainable for anyone. We tried out a new resource from the K12 Lab’s Sound Practice experiment: The Self Care Embodied “album.” It was actually really meaningful to be given class time to focus on self care. Lots of spaces and messaging at Stanford seem to pay lip service to taking care of your mental health, without ever really backing that up with time and resources to make it a priority. Throughout the course, in each class, there were always a few minutes dedicated to stretching, or breathing, or checking in with our emotions. This was a reminder that taking care of ourselves isn’t an occasional big event, but a sustained practice.
What is my mission?
We created “star maps” to outline our missions. The “guiding star”, “distant planet”, “near moon”, and “you” are the four categories that are used to connect a big, overwhelming goal down to what actions you are currently taking to work towards that goal. I ended up with three columns in order to organize my goals across three categories, namely equity in K12 education, equity in higher education (especially the engineering department at Stanford), and environmental justice. Laying everything out in this manner was helpful in order to get a sense of prioritization, as well as how these areas link to each other.
Who are my people?
“Coalition building is a revolutionary act.” — Louie, to me during coaching
One activity we did was mapping out our “space teams” in order to understand the landscape of people and power that our justice work takes place in the context of. It was helpful both to remember that we aren’t alone in working for justice, and for taking time to think strategically about who in our orbits we can most effectively spend our time interacting with.
I realized that my space team was made up mainly of other graduate students in CEE, along with a few graduate students outside of CEE who I was able to meet via this class. However, in justice work in the graduate school setting, there is also a whole network and hierarchy of decision makers that have power in shaping the landscape. Knowing who these decision makers are and where they stand, as well as what will motivate them to make changes, is essential to understanding what power and influence we do have in the system as graduate students. Often it can be intimidating to look at the hierarchy of a place like Stanford, but the reality is that we each have the opportunity to make a difference within our own spheres of influence, and by organizing across silos, we can also work for change at the institutional level.
What have I tried?
We worked in groups to practice prototyping, starting with prompts that were disconnected from racial justice work as we built up to working on a general racial justice prompt, and finally to thinking about how to apply prototyping tools within our own equity work.
We were given the following prompt:
“Design ways to make having conversations about racial justice irresistible to your communities.”
We worked in groups to come up with prototypes around this prompt, and I really liked the framing of the prompt, which made me reflect on what is irresistible about racial justice conversations, and how to amplify those aspects to draw more people in.
We were also given mini lessons in some prototyping tools, including: storyboarding, roleplaying, and paper prototyping, as well as ideas for how how to capture insights from prototyping.
One tool for refining prototypes that was helpful to try out was the Critical Lens Protocol that the K12 Lab adapted from the School Reform Initiative. This is a guided activity to “help design teams review prototypes to ensure that they are culturally relevant and advance racial and other forms of equity (e.g., gender, LGBTQ, English language learners and people with disabilities).”
The prototype I ended up testing was quite simple. I ran a short community building activity (see the “3 minute know me” below) within the anti-racism working group in my engineering department (CEE). We’ve been meeting weekly on Wednesday evenings since June, but aside from introducing our “A-sides” (name, lab group, research area), we hadn’t all gotten much of a chance to get to know each other’s “B-sides” (the things you might not traditionally include in an introduction).
What have I learned?
From my simple prototype test, I learned that there is a desire within the anti-racism working group to dig more into the personal and interpersonal side of racial justice work, and to make this a part of our weekly working group meetings. Perhaps the merits of community building and identity work seems obvious in other disciplines, but in engineering this type of work is frequently undervalued or overlooked. We can tend to be very solution and efficiency oriented, and prefer to take an academic approach (over an emotional approach) to justice work. But from my experience in D(o)4RJ, I think one of the biggest takeaways was getting to feel what it could be like to live in a world guided by the principles of justice and equity. Our instructors cultivated that through careful design of the class, by stepping us all towards trust and a sense of belonging and community, in the space of just 10 weeks, and all via Zoom. Beyond learning about design, prototyping, testing, and synthesis, this class taught me that what makes racial justice work irresistible, is that it allows us to create spaces where we feel at home.
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” — Cornell West
Racial justice work allows us to lean into the best parts of human nature, and make space for our natural desire for love, connection, and belonging. It is as much about creating systems of connection as it is about dismantling systems of oppression.
Especially while our anti-racism working group is still meeting remotely and unable to connect in person, I think that it is really important to carve out space to facilitate connections. Building relationships with other people is a key to making racial justice work sustainable, and building a community that is able to talk about race, both on the personal and abstract levels, is a key step toward justice.
My plan for next quarter is to write out brief notes on the community building and identity exploring activities that were used in this course, as well as ask others in the group for descriptions of other activities that they have found useful in these areas. I then hope to have one subgroup of the working group help to create a quarter-long curriculum of weekly activities for our working group. I think it would be great to have some other members of the group involved in creating the sequence of activities. Then I will lead the activities weekly, or ask if anyone else in the group wants to do so. We can also have check ins with the group every so often to understand which activities were the most valuable.
Beyond building community in the existing working group, it seems that there is a growing desire for collaboration in justice efforts across engineering departments. Therefore, I am also looking forward to continuing to work with other classmates from D(o)4RJ who are also part of the school of engineering (such as Gabriela, Andrea, Lourdes, and Awoe) going forward.
My star map is taped above my desk, and there are many more directions I can take my justice work going forward, especially now that I am equipped with design thinking tools to facilitate the work. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to take this class and to have met some truly incredible and inspiring classmates and instructors. I’m going to miss this class, but I’m looking forward to seeing what develops out of it.