Is the acronym Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) outdated? After a summer of uprisings for racial justice during a global pandemic, we felt this era required us to lead with Justice and so we renamed our office JEDI, transition from the DEI name, to reflect our paradigm shift in 2020. We first noticed the acronym Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) referenced in a list of student demands from Black Stanford Medical students in June 2020.
We had the power to advocate for the renaming of our office and we immediately said, “We can do that here too!” It made a lot of sense for us to lead with Justice and Equity because Diversity and Inclusion have become “feel good terms” that do not equate to much other than numbers, celebrations, and a reminder of power dynamics that those in power can create opportunities for marginalized and minoritized students, faculty, and staff, to feel “included” in predominantly White spaces that were not created with them in mind. As Dr. D.L. Stewart states in the 2017 piece “Language of Appeasement,” diversity and inclusion rhetoric asks fundamentally different questions and is concerned with fundamentally different issues than efforts seeking equity and justice. Leading with Justice and Equity is a significantly different framework because it prompts us to think about the systemic barriers to access, engagement, and success at the forefront of our work and how we can transform an organization to try to eliminate these barriers.
We were reminded of it more recently when Dr. Sydney Freeman, Jr. referenced it in his “10 Concrete Policy Changes PWIs Can Enact to Show Black Lives Matter” piece where he provides 10 clear recommendations that institutions can implement to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter. In both Stewart and Freeman’s pieces, they remind us that language is powerful. They encourage us to think more deeply about the language we use to describe our work and that we take a systems approach — racism plays a major role in how our institutions function and operate. Our job should be to examine these systems and structures and reimagine policies and practices that would seek to produce equitable outcomes. Leading with justice is reflected in the frameworks and scholarship that ground our office’s work. Critical Race Theory and Anti-Oppressive pedagogy are central to our training and pedagogy. In the summer of 2020, we launched a campus-wide Critical Race Theory journal club while the scholarship was targeted by the Trump administration. We have launched an Anti-Oppression Collaborative in Education (ACE) initiative to further embed Anti-Oppression in our curriculum and we have a paid cohort of graduate student JEDI fellows who work with faculty and staff committees to implement initiatives when many institutions expect students to do this labor without compensation.
Language constantly evolves and we look forward to the day when offices move past D&I and the letters drop off altogether. For now, we’ve kept D&I as a nod to our history and because of most people’s familiarity with it as a concept. By shifting it to the back of the acronym, we hope to signify that its utility is shifting as well.
In addition, given that many institutions are situated in a predominantly White context, they should continue to endeavor to increase racial and ethnic diversity. They should also continue to focus on creating an inclusive campus environment where all people feel a sense of belonging. Through D&I, institutions should develop targeted supports for BIPOC groups on campus. We recognize that D&I are important given our institutional context as we lead with justice and equity to help others understand systemic oppression and how it limits opportunities for marginalized and minoritized communities. Leading with justice and equity allows us to more fully take a multi-pronged approach to not only recruitment, but also retention of our marginalized and minoritized populations.
What does moving from DEI to JEDI look like other than a change in language? Here are some examples:
· DEI: Teaching about the importance of diversity and “peer effects” of how BIPOC students enrich the classroom learning experience for “all” students.
· JEDI: BIPOC students are not there to enhance the learning of White students or to be used in the service of White education like a privilege walk. It is our role as educators to provide a greater understanding of the larger context of systemic oppression within our society and how it manifests in racial and ethnic disparities in access and outcomes. It is our duty to focus our efforts on equitable approaches to eliminating these disparities.
· DEI: Teaching about health disparities in a vacuum without providing context, such as people grow up in “bad neighborhoods” and eat “unhealthy” foods.
· JEDI: Having a discussion about health disparities that center on the social determinants of health and how communities of color experience racism (individual and institutional) that affects their health outcomes.
· DEI: A celebration of Black History Month and other heritage months.
· JEDI: An acknowledgement of the contributions of Black individuals and how we can honor them every day, not relegated to a month. A focus on supporting Black faculty, staff, and students. An interrogation of the curriculum to make visible the biases we have in reproducing Whiteness in the curriculum and making changes to it.
· DEI: Focusing on celebrations, but prizing comfort over “difficult” conversations.
· JEDI: An acknowledgement about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion work can be tough given lack of experience with it, but the importance of practice, making mistakes and learning from them (rather than just making mistakes period), and seeking additional self-knowledge, knowing that communities of color experience systemic marginalization and do not have a choice about having to learn this content.
· DEI: Espousing that we value diversity and inclusion.
· JEDI: connecting these values to accountability for ensuring that our goals are met.
· DEI: Facilitating workshop on implicit bias and microaggressions — focused more on interpersonal interactions.
· JEDI: Grounding implicit bias and microaggressions in a larger context of White supremacy and the urgency for individuals to engage in self-learning and questioning about these concepts.
Dr. Kimberly A. Truong is executive director of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Office at MGH Institute of Health Professions and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Kay Martinez is director of diversity equity inclusion training, education, & development at Lesley University and an instructor at MGH Institute of Health Professions. Together, they partner with organizations interested in engaging in JEDI work as part of XEM Consulting Services LLC.