Organizing for Change

“I left the workshop with a deeper understanding of the deceptive nature of racism in this country and how it adversely affects everyone,” Rebecca Ulrich said. “I left feeling like I finally understand the true race issue in this country, and that issue isn’t about individuals.  The race issue is the deceptive system of white supremacy and anything that supports and maintains it."

In April, 32 top administrators including the Vice Chancellors for Student Affairs and Equity & Inclusion, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Affairs, the Chief of Police, the Chancellor’s Chief of Staff, and the Dean of the College of Natural Resources (CNR), joined students, staff, and faculty for a two-and-a-half-day intensive course called Undoing Racism.  

Rebecca works in the Office of the Vice Provost for the Faculty and is the chair of the Black Staff and Faculty Organization (BSFO). She applied for grants through the Division of Equity & Inclusion’s Campus Climate Speaker, Affirmation & Empowerment Series to bring the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) to campus to facilitate their workshop. 

“We wanted to bring PISAB to campus because we’re trying to get people to have a common language, to understand the history of what happened, how we got here, what it is that we’re trying to change, and then what are the tools for moving forward,” explained co-organizer Michele Rabin, associate director of Berkeley Connect and a facilitator for the Multicultural Education Program.  

 Rebecca Ulrich and Michele Radkin are working to build a common language to use when discussing racism. The Undoing Racism workshop was the first step.

                                                                              Rebecca Ulrich (left) and Michele Rabkin (right)are working to build a common language to use when discussing
                                                                              racism. The Undoing Racism workshop was the first step. 

Rebecca and Michele are both members of the Whiteness, Power, and Privilege study group that co-sponsored the event with the BSFO, “We already have the study group and we have a lot of opportunities on campus to talk about this in the academic terms, but if you want to actually make change, that's what PISAB is focused on,” Michele said.  “And it's not just personal change. This workshop is more focused on coming together and organizing for change.”

The two women worked with community partners to identify potential participants. “We were trying to be strategic and we wanted to have a broad spectrum,” said Rebecca. “It was important to include changemakers, people who have the ability to make a decision that could affect as many people as possible.”

Diversity in all of its forms - age, job, campus community, gender and gender identity, race, and ethnicity - was also an important consideration in the selection. Many in the group, like Rebecca and Michele, were already engaged with equity and inclusion efforts through their formal job duties, service roles, volunteering, or community organizing.

Through group discussions, exercises and personal sharing, the People’s Institute facilitators revealed how racism shows up in our everyday lives – in grocery store lines, how we talk about low-income communities, and even in how we view ourselves and our identities. The next step was peeling back the layers and looking at the structures, institutions, laws, and policies that are responsible for and support those views.

"I have just started as Dean of CNR and spent much of this year listening and learning from people across campus,” David Ackerly explained. “However, as a white male, I know I don't get a chance to hear the true diversity of voices and experiences, and to reflect on my own experience and the privilege of moving comfortably through our community. The workshop was a unique experience to listen to faculty, staff, and students, and to drop the guard that many of us carry through the day about our identity and how it plays out, in everything from daily interactions to our role in the university at large. I hope we can continue to provide these opportunities and many others have a chance to participate."

"For me, the value of this program was that it gave me information I really wasn't familiar with," UC Police Chief Margo Bennett said.  "[The workshop] gave me a better understanding of racism and what it does to the people who are being held down. I thought it was valuable training. I caught myself several times going through it on how would the officers have perceived that training."

Now that everyone has had some time to digest what they learned, Michele and Rebecca are making plans to bring the participants back together to debrief and talk about what they’ve reflected on since the workshop, and what they could do now to support Chancellor Carol Christ’s focus on diversity by organizing the campus community to undo racism at UC Berkeley.