Behind the Scenes

Behind the scenes at the HECUA offices in St. Paul, MN

A large group of people walk down a street together holding signs that say Living Wage Now!

As close followers of the HECUA twitter account (@hecua_offcampus) know, each Wednesday we dedicate our stream to tweeting and re-tweeting job opportunities. We add a #hecuacareerboard to the end of each job-related tweet so that our friends, fans and followers can easily supplement their professional searches. This is one of the most popular subjects on our twitter account, so hopefully it’s helpful to some of you folks!

This month we’re adding a new feature: a periodic #hecuacareerboard blog post. We’d like to offer you a glimpse into the life of a non-profit office: our ongoing efforts to live into our mission of academic-community partnerships, newly discovered resources, words of wisdom, challenges, and of course, a steady stream of photos of office dogs.

To start off the series, we’d like to offer a glimpse into yesterday’s anti-racism staff retreat. We do a lot of thinking about how to be a more anti-racist institution, but so far it’s been pretty private with help and feedback from a few of our amazing community partners, alumni and students. In the past few months we’ve had a couple requests for information about how we do this work, and initially we were hesitant. We aren’t experts in this field – we are students. Our work on addressing institutional racism as an organization is a process, and we don’t in any way want to give the impression that we are nearing completion, or in a position to provide definitive answers or even recommendations for other organizations. The more we thought it through, however, the more we realized how much we have to gain from making our process public.

We are offering this snapshot of a day in our anti-racist work because it is an inextricable piece of our work as an institution. We offer it in hopes that it will spark conversation, that others will offer their advice, and that we will benefit from the wisdom and experience of our students, alumni, community and academic partners.

HECUA holds two days on the academic calendar for full-day staff retreats dedicated to training, working group check-ins, and goal setting around our work to become an anti-racist institution. Tuesday, May 19th, was our spring session, and we dedicated a significant chunk of the day to reading and discussing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article for the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.”

Have you read this article? Bookmark the link if you haven’t. Come back to it at a time when you can dedicate an hour or so, maybe more. Finish it up and then read this article which explains the evolution of Coates’ thoughts on reparations.

We spent all morning with this piece. We described our personal reactions to it, what we had known and didn’t know, what it taught us. HECUA teaching staff described how Coates’ investigation relates to their work in the classroom.

HECUA staffers discussing “The Case for Reparations.” This meeting was held off-site, at the Minnehaha Free Space. 

Phil Sandro, Program Director of Inequality in America, said, “this article is right in line with what we teach. Students’ first reaction when we cover this material is often absolute shock that they have never heard about these stories. The history of housing injustice, institutionalized racism, lack of access to the GI Bill and FHA loans for African American families – many of our students are hearing this for the first time . This is a story that needs to be told.” Molly Van Avery, co-director of HECUA’s Making Media, Making Change program agreed, adding that this is the type of story that they hope Making Media students will be empowered to seek out, and to tell.

After a morning of big picture discussion, we spent the afternoon in small groups, working through the progress we’d made towards the goals we set in January. We reviewed how our annual performance evaluations would take our involvement with anti-racist work into account. We analyzed the half-day mini training we’d held at Wilder Foundation a few months ago. We voted to make our work as an organization more transparent, (that’s why you’re reading this blog post!), and to open some of our professional development activities to the public. We have one particular event in mind – a screening of the three-part series “Race, the Power of an Illusion” – but if any of you folks reading have suggestions please share them by emailing hecua@hecua.org.

We ended the day with an open conversation about our office culture. We talked about personal strengths and weaknesses, things about HECUA we love, what needs to change, and the pieces of ourselves that we leave behind when we walk in the front door of our big brick stack on University Ave. In an organic but hilariously org-culturally appropriate moment, we found that we’d all drifted back to Minnehaha Free Space’s tiny library for this day’s end conversation, eleven adult bodies wedged in amongst the books.

Many thanks to Minnehaha Free Space for letting us use your beautiful meeting rooms. 

The day felt like a productive one. We ended with concrete goals, action steps, and charges for each working group. We’d also had some honest conversation about what anti-racist work looks like in a predominantly white institution. That’s an ongoing effort for us, of understanding our role, and being here for the important work of unpacking our complicity, passive and active, in racist systems. Hopefully offering this as an open conversation helps move us forward. Our additional hope is that you, readers, will share your thoughts and feedback with us if you feel inclined. As HECUA founding board member Paul Wellstone taught us, “We all do better when we all do better.” We’re trying to do better.

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