October 13, 2020
Dear colleagues and community members:
We are writing to you because we owe you an apology. We have contributed to harm that has been done and harm that is being done to Black providers in our community and want to share with you what has happened and what we plan to do going forward to minimize future harm. We recognize this letter may seem to be coming out of nowhere, since part of the problem is that we disengaged from our professional meetings long ago and for that we are also sorry.
We are writing this to share what happened, communicate our apology, name the impact, name our role, and acknowledge our actions to change behavior.
What happened? Black colleagues and other providers tried to bring their experiences of harm to our attention, and we did not take action. Earlier this summer, Black colleagues asked Deb Burgard to address this and other related issues involving specific community members. From there, Deb Burgard contacted Megan Hadley, Julie Duffy Dillon, and Laura Watson about this and we have been meeting regularly to address the harm caused by the Greensboro Eating Disorder community failing to provide a safe and accountable space – particularly when we have advertised our space as space for people with marginalized identities. We have all been meeting with Michelle Nicole, a transformational justice consultant, and we are learning about how to do the deeper and long-term work of both reducing the harm we do and addressing and trying to repair the harm we do.
We all have our parts in the harm that was done. Julie Duffy Dillon, Laura Watson, and Megan Hadley apologize for not providing a safe and accountable space for Black colleagues, providers, and students. We are truly sorry. As leaders in our local eating disorder community we did not lead by example and did not foster a professional environment that was open to communication nor transparent about what areas needed improvement. We knew that members of leadership were creating division within our community and our organization was not inclusive. We did not discuss these leadership issues nor try to resolve our lack of diversity. This is known as white silence and it has harmed Black providers. We let our community down. For this we are sorry.
We are just starting to appreciate the dangerous impact of advertising our professional space as an inclusive space, a “Space for All” and not actually providing that. We can only imagine how hard it might be for someone to come into what they thought was an inclusive environment of peers committed to community and justice-informed healing and find that not to be true, as evidenced by lack of representation yet promotion of otherwise. We can only imagine this because we don’t know how painful that is. Our privilege protected (and continues to protect) us. We are acknowledging that our professional community has made Black providers feel isolated, tokenized, and demeaned by people who are supposed to be professional colleagues and mentors. Black providers have summoned the courage to advocate for better, but were then dismissed further by colleagues claiming to be allies and advocates. Additionally we contributed to this dismissiveness by avoiding the issue of racial inequity in our community and remaining silent. We believe the experiences that Black providers have brought forth that exemplify this and also believe that there are others that have not been brought to light.
In particular, we want to name how we have caused harm:
· I, Julie Duffy Dillon, as a local eating disorder treatment leader, contributed to an unsafe space for Black colleagues through my silence and centering of my own comfort. I caused harm by forming our professional eating disorder community without a structure to normalize accountability and repair work. I contributed to an unsafe environment because I did not consider developing a space that was equitable for Black providers because of my racial bias and privilege. This same bias caused harm because I did not prioritize forming relationships with Black providers. Once I became aware of harm to Black providers I should have intervened. I caused harm by retreating from conflict and remained disengaged. Choosing to step back, remain silent, and disengage from our community allowed for my own comfort, centering the comfort of another white provider, and for the harm to happen. In choosing my comfort and my white colleague’s comfort, I caused harm to Black providers.
· I, Megan Hadley, as a Greensboro eating disorder provider, contributed to an unsafe space for Black providers within our professional community by not offering to help or speak up when I learned that harm had been done to a Black therapist in our local community by another provider. I also disengaged from my professional community to avoid conflict and prioritize my own comfort, which contributed to an environment where harm happened and could continue to happen. Beyond some reading, I also did not prioritize my own anti-racism and anti-oppression work, making me a potentially more harmful person to work with as a client or colleague. I also did not advocate for equitable treatment of Black providers by fellow colleagues or by our professional community. I also did not build relationships with Black providers in our community, which is a choice not to care. I also want to acknowledge that it is the very actions (and inactions) that I am apologizing for that uphold systemic oppression.
· I, Laura Watson, as a local eating disorder provider knew that harm was being done to local providers and I stood by. I did not advocate enough for equitable treatment for members of our local community. I saw that our space of eating disorder professionals was not diverse nor representative of the community we seek to serve and I suspected that could deter Black providers from feeling safe enough to join our community. I did not advocate hard enough to fix this. Instead I disengaged from the community. I retreated. When I learned of more ways in which Black providers have been harmed, I did not address the issue head on. I allowed my own discomfort to be more important than advocating for my peers. Because of my silence, I let my peers down and have potentially kept the door open for more Black providers and students to be harmed.
· I, Deb Burgard, as a founder of the Health at Every Size model, did not recognize the need for processes for accountability for the ways that our mostly white communities would be harmful to Black colleagues and Black clients. Clearly we needed accountability processes from the start to normalize the work of repair and learning. I am sorry for imagining that I am fighting for fat people when I have not asked nearly enough how my work addresses the lived experience and needs of fat people who are not white cisgender middle class women. When I have made attempts to address the harm I see my (white) colleagues doing, I have indulged in righteousness and judgmental behavior that is not mine to claim, as I share their privilege and have often made those mistakes too. I am sorry for making the process of addressing and repairing feel more intimidating and less inviting for my white peers, which keeps us stuck rather than moving open-heartedly into this necessary healing, and I am sorry that my actions have prolonged the suffering of my Black colleagues who are trying to build pathways for their communities to access eating disorder support.
We commit to change our behavior. We commit to engage in continued transformative justice work, to grow more accountable, and seek to repair the Greensboro Eating Disorder community as well as the broader community of clinicians working to address the needs of all people with eating disorders. We want to help nurture a community of eating disorder providers that works together to grow forward together. We are committed to listening and learning from Black providers. We are paying for education from Black consultants as there are many things as white providers we cannot teach ourselves. We are committed to holding ourselves accountable. We are committed to receiving feedback and making changes in the future. We will no longer ignore harmful behavior and are working to set up systems to promote a community accountability process when future harm happens. We hope to foster an environment where colleagues will be interested in engaging in accountability work together.
To this end, we invite our local colleagues to participate in this healing and accountability process with us. If you are in our local community of eating disorder professionals and are interested in joining us in restorative justice work and engaging in a community of accountability, please click to sign up for future discussions. This letter is the first of a series because we want to build this discussion and process. We don’t want to just repeat the mistake of trying to “fix it” rather than taking on the ongoing, deeper work together.
In light of the harms in our community from our unexamined privilege and participation in structural and systemic racism, we also want to make sure there is a dedicated space for Black providers and learners to gather, connect, and be supported at this time. A meeting is being organized with restorative and transformational justice consultant Michelle Nicole of Passion and Power, to provide a setting where people can explore longer-term options for support as well. We are asking that people provide emails for scheduling purposes, which will be known only to Michelle Nicole and to Megan. This meeting will be free of charge and is only open to Black providers and learners. Click here to include your email if you would like to participate in this meeting.
Thank you to our Black colleagues for speaking your truths even when you know we are likely to disappoint. Thank you to the community for bearing witness and engaging in trying to do better.
Signed, your friends and colleagues:
Julie, Laura, Megan and Deb