We want to update you on the efforts we have made to address the problems that were identified, initially in our first letters, and give you information that we hope will lead to greater safety, especially for people who are newer in their careers, BIPOC, queer and/or trans, fat, disabled, or in any way marginalized and hold less power and privilege in our communities.
Our intention is to recognize harm and commit to repair. We are trying to build ways to do this that lessen shame and fear, and instead lead to stronger relationships and learning. Part of this is to practice transparency and clarity about the ways we can do better.
As we referenced in the first letter, in July Deb Burgard was contacted by Black colleagues wanting to address multiple experiences of harm within professional relationships with white colleagues in the Greensboro area. One specific instance involved Maria Paredes. One person described their experience of feeling tokenized, demeaned, and dismissed by Maria, and then when they brought those experiences to the attention of white colleagues (Julie Duffy Dillon, Laura Watson, and Megan Hadley), those colleagues did not take effective action. They knew there were issues, but did not seek to hold Maria accountable.
When Deb contacted them in July, we all began meeting to come up with a sequence of steps to get unstuck. In that process we received information that there were additional experiences of similar interactions with Maria experienced by another local Black colleague.
As we waded into the accountability process, we realized that our positive intentions were not enough to do this skillfully and the group began meeting in early September with transformative justice advocate and consultant Michelle Nicole (www.passionandpowerus.com).
In the meetings we have been focusing on this specific situation involving Maria but also the deeper question of the lack of accountability and repair processes in our communities, which is especially dangerous for the people who have less power and privilege. When many of the white people with power and privilege – even with the intent to not harm – are publicly talking about social justice concepts but are not actively working on repairing the ways we enact white supremacy in our relationships, we are representing ourselves as ready to be in partnership when we are not, and we haven’t yet built and nurtured repair processes that we need to be in partnership either.
Aside from the specific instances of harm caused by individuals in the community we realized that we hadn’t built a community of accountability where folks could safely share their experiences, feel heard, and trust that action would be taken to address the issues appropriately. Our communities need these processes and we need to be willing to use them.
One of our first actions in September was to invite Maria into this process with us, letting her know that we wanted to address the experiences of local Black providers of tokenism and being demeaned. She declined our invitation to engage in this particular process, replying that she was already engaged in anti-racism practices and consultation. We asked again, noting that this would be about specific concerns with this case, and asking her if her answer meant she was not willing to learn more about, discuss and work towards repairing these specific issues. She has not responded to this or a similar follow-up email.
Our next step has been to let our local and broader communities know about our own complicity in the original breakdown of this process and to apologize for our roles in contributing to harm as well. As part of that repair, we have been hoping that we could come together in the work of repairing our community, and at the time of this writing, Maria has apparently not made an effort to apologize and acknowledge the harm.
With Michelle Nicole’s guidance, we have continued to think about what we could do. We want to keep building the opportunities for us all to do this work, and we also want to address the risks that people with less power face, and provide more information.
The first of our current actions is the previously mentioned gathering of interested people (click to sign up) who want to begin to learn what their role is in repairing and ending the harm that marginalized people are experiencing in our professional community. As people with more power we are likely to not see the harm we do, not feel the need to address it, and be passive about our need for repair and accountability processes. We want to move forward with people who are ready and willing to do this work.
The second is to openly discuss the events. We are naming what happened with Maria because she has a strong presence on social media, she is a leader in both the local Greensboro eating disorder community, and also the eating disorder field as well, she is a teacher and a mentor, and she has the potential to wield influence in a variety of ways. Through social media, she markets supervision services, mentorship, and group discussions. Through social media she appears to be committed to antiracism work and folks may see her as an ally, and those people need to know about the experiences of others in order to make an informed decision about working with her.
In this specific situation, people who feel harmed are clear that they want to make their experiences known to other people who might be seeking similar mentoring or professional relationships, so that they can make an informed decision. We are grateful to them for being willing to share this information and we expect that these accounts will unfold going forward.
The third is organizing a meeting for Black colleagues and community members (click here) to gather with Michelle Nicole and address concerns, strengthen connections, and get support.
We are grateful to Black women leaders in this work and want to center their labor and wisdom; and we also commit our support for spaces dedicated to healing, support, and connection for Black people.
Thank you all for your willingness to learn together and for having faith that we can build something better.
Megan Hadley, Laura Watson, Julie Duffy Dillon, and Deb Burgard