Over the past several weeks, I have received feedback from a number of WCSAP members and partners that people want to know more about what WCSAP is doing to address institutional racism and oppression at our organization. This communication is my initial attempt to meet that request, and to share more about the internal racial equity work that WCSAP is doing.
What has happened at WCSAP?
In 2019, WCSAP named co-directors to lead the organization; one of these co-directors was a Black immigrant woman who is no longer with WCSAP and one was a white woman who is still on staff in a management position. As of November 2020, the co-director model has been replaced with a single executive director, who is a white woman (me). From 2018 - 2020, WCSAP’s prevention coordinator was a Black man, who is no longer with WCSAP. WCSAP now has a white woman in the role, which is now a management position as well. Though I do not know all the details of the transition and/or there are some details that are not my story to share, I can say that the two Black people who worked for WCSAP were paid settlements by WCSAP for their experiences of racism. Today, there are no longer any Black people on staff. The history here at WCSAP has, and will likely continue to have, a chilling effect on many Black potential applicants for employment here. Currently, we have a 3-person leadership team at WCSAP, and we are all white women. In addition to former WCSAP staff, there were many people of color in our membership and movement who felt excited, supported, and seen when a Black woman was leading WCSAP, and they were also disappointed and hurt when that person was removed from leadership.
Experiences of racism and other forms of oppression by WCSAP staff did not start in 2019. The organization, like our movement as a whole, has not been safe, healthy, inclusive, or welcoming for people of color and/or those with other lived experience of marginalization. WCSAP leadership, staff, members, and community partners have harmed staff of color and/or those with other marginalized identities through frequent and ongoing microaggressions. This has been true for many years.
Given the entrenched history of racism and oppression at WCSAP, when a Black woman was named as a co-director, it was a set up for failure. It was a good and well-intentioned idea, to create a shared leadership model and to work towards being an anti-racist organization in practice as well as in words. But the structures and supports were not there to implement the leadership change. WCSAP was putting a woman of color into a leadership position in a white supremacist system, hoping that she could save the organization. And then the Black woman who was co-director was pushed out of the role after only a few months, when white women directors are generally given time and grace to make mistakes, and provided needed support and allowed time and space to orient to their new jobs and make organizational change.
And while this transition in leadership is the most stark and visible example of how racism has played out in our organization, it is important to remember that it is not the only example. Experiences of racism and oppression have been on-going over many years, and have led to many people experiencing harm. Therefore, addressing the problem, taking accountability, and moving forward to make change and to be an anti-racist organization will need to be intentional and sustained. Furthermore, it is not an effort that can be achieved by any one person - it is an effort that needs to be made by all staff and board, done with the support and guidance of people who have expertise in racial equity and liberation, and addresses all levels of our organization, internally and externally.
What is WCSAP doing now?
WCSAP has engaged with DonYeta Villavaso Madden to lead internal racial equity work. Last fall, we started this work by developing a Diversity, Racial Equity, and Inclusion (DREIM) agency charter. This charter lays out the goal for WCSAP to end our institutionalized racism and to create a community that is enriched by its diverse cultures with full participation by all. It lays out the responsibilities of the WCSAP board of directors, executive director, leadership, and all staff in achieving this goal, and provides a requirement for regular evaluation of how WCSAP is meeting this goal, with evaluation done by an outside consultant.
We also started doing internal capacity building related to racial equity as a staff, facilitated by DonYeta. We read the book So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, which we completed in spring 2021. Currently, we are reading the book We Will Not Cancel Us by adrienne maree brown. Our next book that we will read together later this fall is Me & White Supremacy by Layla Saad. As we read these books, we take them one or two chapters at a time, and engage in facilitated discussions with DonYeta, so we can dive deep into the concepts and how they apply to each of us as individuals and, more importantly, to our organization. These readings have helped us to understand the harms that have been caused by WCSAP, and to think about what accountability and repair could look like.
Additionally, DonYeta is leading us to develop a racial equity action plan. This plan addresses our training and technical assistance for membership, our internal and administrative operations, and our policy and systems coordination work. When we complete this plan, it will have clear outcomes, strategies, measures, timelines, and assigned responsibilities. This plan will be shared on our website and newsletter with our membership, as will updates on our progress.
We also are working with Zoe Flowers to engage in identifying how racism has played out at WCSAP and OCVA together, and how that has impacted staff at our agencies as well as sexual assault programs throughout the state. She has led us through listening sessions, a restoration and repair workshop, and racial equity trainings, and will help us develop an action plan for how our organizations together can center racial justice and liberation.
We are slowly making changes in the way we work. We are updating our “get help” page on our website to include culturally specific community programs on the list, which currently only lists Community Sexual Assault Programs (CSAPs). We recently updated our salary range for staff, to ensure a living wage for all staff, salary adjustments based in racial equity, and a smaller spread between the highest paid and lowest paid staff. In addition to the salary range, we are working on a set of values and practices that would provide institutional support for equity in compensation (including salary and benefits) for WCSAP staff. We have committed to dedicating funding each year in our budget to address our racial equity work, including paying for consultants and trainings both for ourselves and our membership; as part of our racial equity action plan, we will set a target percentage for our budget each year. We are working on developing values for our public policy work which would center racial justice and liberation. We shared some of the ways that we have caused harm with our membership at our annual meeting in April 2021, and asked members to engage with us in thinking about how our agencies and our movement have been rooted in white supremacy and racism - and how we can be anti-racist organizations.
It is important to acknowledge that what we have accomplished is based on the work of other WCSAP staff who came before us, especially staff who are People of Color, who struggled and generally did not benefit from the changes for which they so strongly advocated.
What is next?
Perhaps most importantly, we need to engage more with our members and partners to hear from you all about how you would like WCSAP to continue to be accountable and change. To do this, we have contracted with Zoe Flowers to lead restoration and repair work with our constituents statewide. Later this fall, Zoe will give people the opportunity to provide feedback about WCSAP directly to her, through a survey. Feedback will be aggregated for WCSAP and shared in a way that protects the confidentiality and anonymity of those who provide their input to Zoe. In the spring, Zoe will lead a number of listening sessions for our constituents and members - again, as a way to give us feedback on what we need to do to continue to move towards being an anti-racist organization. Zoe will then lead an interactive workshop on restoration and repair, in which the focus will be on repairing harms caused by WCSAP. Finally, Zoe will provide racial equity trainings for WCSAP staff along with our membership, to set a baseline for shared knowledge and understandings about racial liberation.
We also hope to better communicate more frequently with you all about what we are doing. Soon we will update our website to share the books that our staff have been reading and videos we have watched, and to share our racial equity action plan when completed. We will give more frequent updates in our newsletters and social media as well.
Additionally, I am always available and interested in talking more with any or all of you about what WCSAP needs to do differently, or what I need to do differently, to live up to our shared values of justice and liberation. Please reach out to me any time.
Susan Marks (she/her)
Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP)
*Note: Based on feedback about the original statement, I changed one sentence from a passive voice to an active voice on 9/24/2021. The previous version was originally emailed out to WCSAP's mailing list, and this version on our website now includes updated language. The sentence originally read: "Staff of color and/or those with other marginalized identities experienced microaggressions both within the organization by past leadership and colleagues, and externally with members and community partners, on a frequent and on-going basis." It currently reads: "WCSAP leadership, staff, members, and community partners have harmed staff of color and/or those with other marginalized identities through frequent and ongoing microaggressions."