Selfcare, looking out for others, and building a supportive, inclusive community were the main topics of discussion at the Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice Summit on April 5.
The summit was hosted by the Division of Student Affairs and moderated by Matthew Jeffries, the director of campus climate and community building. Centered on the theme, Fostering Community and Structural Care, the event brought together nearly 200 participants from around the Washington State University system to learn about creating an equitable and supportive community for all. Attendees also learned about resources and practices they can use to help build that community.
“The mantra of Cougs Helping Cougs is really strong here,” said Provost and Pullman Chancellor Elizabeth Chilton in her opening remarks. “If we create a safe environment for our students and fellow colleagues, we can all thrive.”
Supporting community needs in new ways
The summit’s breakout sessions covered a range of topics, from mutual aid to mindfulness as an anti-racist practice to the Employee Assistance Program. Sessions focused on describing what community and structural care can look like and providing tools and resources for attendees to begin building community care into their lives.
In a session on mutual aid, facilitator Josie Rodriguez provided a framework of what mutual aid can look like in different communities and challenged participants to work outside of traditional institutions to help address the needs of their communities in a non-hierarchical way.
“I want to challenge folks to think about ways that we can work outside of our institutions, using the knowledge and skills and the capital that we have and the privileges that we have, to support people in our communities,” she said. “The most radical thing you can do is find ways you can get involved.”
In their session “Mindfulness as an Anti-Racist Practice,” co-facilitators Trymaine Gaither and Kersten Bergstrom discussed ways to support individuals through mindful awareness, active listening, and silence. They encouraged participants to engage in mindfulness practices such as the STOP method (Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed) and the three C’s (center, check in, co-counsel) when talking with others and recommended silence as a powerful mindfulness tool.
“Silence can allow others to be heard, so by listening and being present, we can honor others,” Bergstrom said. “In silence, we aren’t the center of attention. [The discomfort of] silence can give others the time they need to talk.”
Considering care at the community level
In his closing remarks, David Garcia, assistant dean for Health Equity and Inclusion at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, talked about the importance of moving toward systems of community and structural care, particularly as the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re constructing what the new normal will become, and we can all be active participants in that,” he said. “It’s important to think about what community care looks like. Instead of asking people to engage in self-care, what if we begin to consider care at the community level?”
Creating a culture of community and structural care can seem daunting, but many people are in positions to create that kind of change at WSU and in their larger community, Garcia said. Checking in with colleagues and friends, fostering a culture of kindness and respect, and advocating for material and cultural changes are all important steps to moving from self-care to community care and, ultimately, structural care systems.
“We’re at a crossroads, and we have an opportunity as individuals and organizations on how we will assign and prioritize our time,” he said. “It’s important to move from self and community care to structural care. This is the utopia I’m coming to work for every day, this is what I think is worth fighting for.”