This is Part 3 in a series of articles designed to encourage community dialogue regarding cleaning up our own house with regards to racial/ social justice education so we can be more effective and compassionate, both within justice-based communities and society at large.
This is available as a downloadable PDF
Deep Diversity: An Alloy of Social Justice
The organization I co-founded over a decade ago, Anima Leadership, became the workshop in which we experimented with retro-fitting anti-oppression principles with a psychological foundation, integrating research from emotional intelligence, social neuroscience, as well as systems change, conflict transformation, mindfulness practice and, more recently, trauma therapy.
This holistic framework—an example of what could be called a social justice alloy—is outlined in my book, Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them (2015). We’ve had great impact with learners through the Deep Diversity methodology both anecdotally and through actual assessments. In spite of being a small organization, we’ve been testing our methodology and have data from work teams—over 150 leaders and 750 staff members—from organizations in both Canada and the US. The very promising results include:
- Increased buy-in as well as reduced resistance on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Enhanced ability for people to talk openly about issues related to race, identity, and exclusion.
- Improved employee engagement and positivity
- Increased willingness of organizational leaders to commit resources and develop programs to support the advancement of historically marginalized groups.
As a side note, this is another area of weakness in social justice education—there is very little rigorously tested educational methods. Although there are many accepted beliefs about what should be taught, there is very little actual data that demonstrates what teaching strategies are effective and in what context, how to reduce resistance, etc.
Furthermore, with Deep Diversity, we are seeing the rise of critical awareness coupled with on-the-ground behavioural change. The following chart outlines some common issues I’ve directly encountered in organizations, with poor interventions that maintain the status quo compared to what has actually happened following Deep Diversity interventions:
Deep Diversity: Critical Success Factors
We’ve identified 8 teaching factors that are critical for success from Deep Diversity:
- Build Trust: Trust-building with educator is critical to learning.
- Model Vulnerability: The educator models mistake-making and non-judgment when engaging with social justice issues.
- Community Container: Relationship-building between participants is crucial to learning about identities, taking risks and being uncomfortable in order to learn as well as navigating boundaries.
- Psychological Literacy: Designing learning processes that promote social/ emotional literacy, including the development of self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and perspective-taking. This includes directly teaching about the brain/mind phenomenon as well as recognizing and managing one’s triggers.
- Political Literacy: Designing learning experiences that enhance political literacy through awareness of social identity, power and privilege.
- Macro-Micro Zoom: Learning to toggle between the common human experience and the differential impacts of social power on groups. Both educator and learners need to develop the emotional fluidity to shift from individual to systemic levels, and back again.
- Scaffolding Learning Strategies: The learning development model has to meet the experience and needs of adult learners, and be customized to their context. The learning should be scaffolded, building on the learners’ lived experience and insights. Teaching methods should be experiential in nature with activities that engage the cognitive (head) and affective (heart).
- Conflict Friendly: The educator has to be equipped with conflict transformation skills in order to host brave conversations and maximize learning for all participants. To support the conversations between learners, the educator needs to model how to befriend conflict while being self-reflexive. This can only be done if the educator has done the inner, psychological work that supports healing and wholeness.
In the next post, I’ll go into these factors in greater detail. I’ll describe how integrating psychological literacy into the context not only benefits learners with privilege who may be resistant, but is especially important for learners who come from marginalized backgrounds. Psychological tools are critical in supporting people who most need support in the present moment, as they cannot wait until social change happens in the unspecific future. People need tools today to deal with the experiences of oppressive social systems in the present moment, helping nurture resilience and healing. I’ll also discuss how these same psychological tools can help us help reduce another chronic problem: burn out in our ranks.
 If you are an academic or foundation interested in advancing training/ teaching methodology, we are always looking for collaboration partners.