Program Reflections: Listening, Learning and Growing

by Myia Welsh, program director

This past year, the WV Rivers team prioritized taking time to examine how injustice creeps into our work. And I wanted to cast a little light on our reflections and on how we’re attempting to recognize normal, everyday moments to think a little differently how we can deliver more equitable programming.

Last month, a staff person gave me a call for some quick feedback. They were working on developing a form for a mini-grant program that we’re hosting, and they hit on a question that felt significant. If we are an organization that wants to foster diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice; how can we encourage that in the mini-grants that we make? Makes sense, right? We added a question: How does this project address marginalized populations? But is that really what we’re talking about?

Language is important, it’s always been important, but at this moment it feels like our chosen words carry even more weight. On reflection, this question created a frame that insinuates some group of “others” just need to come along for equity to be achieved. It caused me to pause. It caused me to question the world-view that informs this approach, a world-view that assumes assimilation (to a white, privileged framework?) is the antidote marginalization. I’ve seen similar questions included on program applications or grant report templates a thousand times. And each time it makes me pause. It hit me that this question assumes separateness, as if marginalized populations aren’t foundational threads woven in to the fabric of communities. What does that mean for the world-view that WV Rivers is perpetuating?

While this was just one question, one moment in our work, we have to recognize that moments stack up to create and perpetuate a culture. Our challenge is to reflect on these moments, dissect them, analyze them, and determine what type of culture they promote. It’s hard work, and it can be uncomfortable, but in the end we’re doing our best to find a better way, a more equitable way forward.

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