Round Table Discussion—Reframing the Conversation Transcript

MILTON REYNOLDS: Ah, thank you Mark I appreciate the warm introduction and good morning everybody I’m delighted to be here with you. So, as Mark said my name in Milton Reynolds and I’m coming in from the West coast I’m out here in the San Francisco bay area and excited to be with you today. It’s interesting to be in this conversation, now, rather than a year ago, right? Knowing that a year ago there was a conversation that was beginning to emerge but that was before this summer, right? A summer that was marked by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the killing of Breonna Taylor and then with the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. We also saw the outbreak of a global pandemic, one that hit the United States very hard.  It had particularly profound consequences for the disability community and communities of color with Latin X and African American communities being hit particularly hard.  Some of the things that might have been difficult to see a year ago may be easier to see now.  Let us also mention the fact that we had an insurrection at the capitol on January 6th so there is a lot in play.

But all of these things will help us as a society and hopefully as a community to understand that the conversations about equity and inclusion and diversity are really conversations before the functioning of democracy.

I'm look forward to building a conversation with you today and getting us started with a possible reframe.  I know in Mark's comments, he had said he was disappointed with the organization but I wanted to say you would be in pretty good company.  There are some legitimate reasons why we may not have been able to see what was apparent for some others and yet with the reframing of the conversation, what I'm hoping we can do is to enter a conversation that will build over the course of the next couple of days that will put your organization back on the right track, knowing that change is a process rather than an event, getting clear on the "why" of change is imperative to having [audio not captured] to effectively executing the "what" and the "how" so I'm hoping to have that conversation with you now.

So as an educator, my job is to put you to work and to have you do most of the heavy lifting.  I've got just a quick heads up that in the chat, I see that the CC stopped working?  Or there is a question about whether or not it is working.  As I was saying, as an educator, my goal is to put you in conversations with each other.  I want to share a little bit about the process that we will be involved in to give folks a heads up.  So you all received an article beyond prejudice, the cultural psychology of racism in education by Glenn Adams who is at the University of Kansas.  I know that everybody was asked to read it beforehand but having been a classroom educator, I know that that doesn't always happen.  We're going to take about ten minutes as a collective to read the article.

As you read through the article again, I would love for you to identify two or three elements or segments of the article that you find interesting or would like to talk about your colleagues.

After we've had that break for ten minutes to read the article, an invitation will be issued for you to join a breakout room.

My understanding, you'll be in breakout rooms of about five people, maybe a few more.  I'm going to offer up a structure in hopes that it will help to democratize your voices and to demonstrate the importance of creating a space at the table for everybody.

I don't care what room you're in, whether it is a conference room or courtroom or a classroom, we'll always know more collectively than we will individually.  So our processes should reflect that.

I'm going to give you a brief snapshot and I'll repeat it again before we go into breakout rooms.  Again, as you re read the article, I'm going to ask you to identify two to three segments.  Once you're in your groups, I'm going to ask you to number off one through five or however many people are in your group.  The way that the process works is that person one will read aloud one of the segments of the article and then they won't say anything else.

Persons two, three, four and five, having read the same article, will provide some thoughts about the selection that was offered up.  So person two might say something to the effect of oh, that's one of the ones I chose.

Here's what came up for me.  Person three might say I didn't notice that or pick that out but here's something it brings up for me.

Four and five will complete the statements and again, they're not dissertation link statements, they're short and then person one will share why they chose that statement in the first place.

Person two will share a statement with three, four and five and one commenting on it.  Then two will share why they chose that statement.  Once everybody in your group has had a chance to share one of their statements, what I want you to then do is to fold into more of an organic conversation and pick up traction where you find it as a collective.  You'll be in the groups for about 40 minutes then we're going to come back and spend about 25 minutes together unpacking or doing what I call cross pollination, recognizing that because you're different people in different groups, you're likely to land on some of the same meanings but also likely to extract different meanings.

That's the way that our process will work for this morning session.  Once we wrap up, we're going to go to a lunch plenary and I will join you after lunch so I'm looking forward to the combination of our two sessions.

I'll put my timer on for ten minutes to make sure we have adequate time to give people time to re read the article and barring any questions or clarifying questions, I'm going to go ahead and start the timer now.  Let's take ten minutes to read the article.  I see that the link has also been dropped back in the chat.  
Thank you for doing so, Stacie.  Enjoy the article.  We'll see you back in a few minutes.

[Individual reading]

MILTON REYNOLDS: You have about five minutes left.  About five minutes.

You have about two minutes left.  You should be thinking about identifying those two to three segments of the article.

All right.  So hopefully folks are [audio not captured] have had a chance to mark up their article.  And even if you didn't finish the article, there will still be ample opportunity to make meaning of it in the groups.

So just a reminder, shortly, as I understand it, you'll receive an invitation to join a breakout room.  Once you arrive in that breakout room, take a brief moment to introduce yourself and number off one through five or however many people are in your group.  Again, just a reminder, the process person one will share a quote with two, three, four and five commenting on it briefly.  These are not dissertation length comments and one will share why they chose it.  Person two will do the same with others following suit.

Once everyone is done, has had an opportunity to share one of their selections, I would encourage you to fold into a more organic conversation.  At that point, it can open up.  But please do your best to honor the structure.  That will help you to hold the dissonance but also to gain further access to each other's thinking.

I will not join you in the small breakout rooms but I will be waiting for you here in the main room.  We'll see you back in about 40 minutes.  Just a brief opportunity to see if there are any questions about the process.
Seeing none, we'll see you back at about 12:20.  I look forward to hearing back from you and we'll see you in a bit.  Thank you.

And thank you, Sarah.

[ 40 minute Breakout ]

MILTON REYNOLDS: Welcome back, folks. Hope you had ample time to have some conversation and that the structure was useful in helping you gain access to each other's thinking.

What I would love to do now for roughly about the next [audio not captured] little shorter than the next 20 minutes is to hear back from people.  I would be very interested in getting a sense of what came up in your conversations.

But before we do that, just a reminder that we will be going into breakout rooms again for my session after the lunch and just a reminder for anybody who needs access to ASL or closed captioning, we'll take a pause before we assign the breakout rooms to give you an opportunity to identify yourselves so that we can get you to the right place and in an efficient manner.

So in service of our conversation, maybe the easiest way to do it and if I could get a little bit of help with air traffic control is for folks to raise their hand using the reactions button.  Once you've been identified, then we'll ask you to unmute yourself and then share out that way.

So hopefully that's a relatively easy way to get [audio not captured] to identify folks to speak.

I would love to open the floor.  What came up in your conversations?

Kevin Williams.  Please unmute yourself.  Thank you.

One thing that came up in our group, we just had a question.  Milton, we would love to know why an article written by a white person was selected.

MILTON REYNOLDS: Yeah, I think for one, I should have said this before but Glenn Adams is a colleague of mine.  That's a critical race theorist so as somebody who studies race as a set of ideas, I've always found Glenn's thinking to be provocative.

He's among a number of people in a broader cohort of critical race theorists, many of whom are people of color, but in particularly, this article was useful for framing out the pivot that is underway and the idea that he actually saw this pivot years before it occurred, I think is important and worthy of recognition.  I appreciate that question.

Other thoughts?  What else came up in your conversations?

Sushil, your hand is up.  Please unmute yourself.

In our group, we had really some meaningful discussion.  One of the points that really was helpful to hear for me again from one of my colleagues in the room that when we are talking about systemic discrimination, after we blame that tragedy of discrimination on the system, and really after that, we are guilt free, we are blame free.  And my colleague pointed out that even when we might not be actively complicit in that system, that as a passive or prejudicial, we still benefit from it because someone else, a group of people, they're being left out.

I would expand on that that the resources that should have gone to that group, those are being enjoyed by the end group, the group in power.

MILTON REYNOLDS: I appreciate those comments, Sushil.  One of the things we're beginning to wake up to as a society although some have understood this all along, racialization is imposed, it is not rooted in biology.  But the purpose of that imposition is to present as normal or natural a hierarchy [audio not captured] and the purpose of imposing the hierarchy is to normalize the allocation or the withholding of resources from groups, among other things and that's done so categorically.  It has to do with the ways in which our groups are categorically identified and positioned within a hierarchy.  I appreciate this idea that it doesn't require [audio not captured] in order for others to benefit from the systems.  Other thoughts?  Things that came up in your conversations where you found traction or you thought were challenging?

William Myhill, your hand is up.

Thank you, Beth.  Thank you, Milton for facilitating this conversation.  I will only [audio not captured] I can only speculate at first but I was in a group with just one other individual.  We missed our three other colleagues who didn't join us.

I think central to our conversation was the idea that there is some real work that needs to be done by identifying people in our society to dismantle racism, that it is truly structurally under-girding everything in our society and benefiting disproportionately.  I can't help but wonder, speculate whether the three persons who didn't join us were afraid or concerned or in some way not willing to join in this work because just having these conversations is beginning [audio not captured] is an entry to doing the work.

It is only a speculation.  We had a very productive conversation.  I benefited greatly from talking with my colleague.  As mentioned, we really focused tremendously on racism in our society.

MILTON REYNOLDS: Were there any elements of the article that you found particularly worthwhile or poignant in your discussion?  There are a number of big ideas in there.

We talked a lot about how our accounts of history and our institutions tend to sanitize a lot of ideas and what    white history, white understandings of our society.  We talked a lot about the work [audio not captured] the good work of but sometimes the challenged work of educators who have a responsibility to educate about systemic racism but often do not do that.  Often really only touch the surface by highlighting maybe the experience of a few persons of color and how they've risen above their own circumstances rather, out of a system that's racism, that has been impacting them in many, many ways.

So these are some of the conversations that we had and some of the pieces of the article that we talked about.

MILTON REYNOLDS: Thank you.  I appreciate it.  I do believe, certainly as an educator and also one who understands the education system is a system of [audio not captured] is a race making system itself, this idea of identifying ranking and ordering who this is inherently, a racialized system. 

But having said that, I think it's important to understand that one of the challenges that we face is for the last 60 or 70 years, this narrative of color blind has been perpetuated in educational systems and in my own writing, I make the argument that the consequences of the color blind conditioning have two significant outcomes.  Someone a conceptual impoverishment.  One is that that system encourages us to determine an exculpatory version of race.  The challenge with that, race is a complicated set of ideas.  So if you approach complication with simplification as your approach, what you end up with is stupefaction.

The other challenge is effective under-skilling because the goal is to avoid conversations about race and I would say this is particularly true for white identifying people although not unique to them, is that because the focus is on an exculpatory understanding of race is that when we get into conversations about race, we have different skill sets and understanding so the lack of practice and skill oftentimes translates into transgressive or reactive responses which I think is the moment a lot of people are living through.

In my read of the documents were some of the responses that precipitated this symposium and the focus of this symposium.  So again, it is important to understand that many of the ideas were inculcated through education.  We have to take on responsibility for shifting this dynamic into a more interrogating and critical understanding of race rather than simplistic and not particularly civic understanding.  Thank you for that.
I believe Parris Boyd's hand is up.

One interesting thing that came out from the conversation that I had with my group was just kind of the different foundations that we were all [audio not captured] not even that we were all on but that kind of occur in the country.

So like even the framing of the Civil War and how that can be different based off of where in the country you were educated from K-12.

MILTON REYNOLDS: That's an important, big idea.  I think racialization as a context specific endeavor.  We have a national set of commitments around the ideas of race and yet when we look on the local front, because of demographics, certain particular trends, economic pressures, what we find is that our understandings and experiences of racialization may differ significantly.

Again, I used to work for an international nonprofit association based on the east coast.  On the west coast, we have much more nuance conversations about race which took into account the racialization of age in Americans, Latin X folks, a lot of things going on here. 

But what I found is when I moved back east to try to get into conversations about race with my colleagues, it was primarily a black and white binary framework which was reductive.  That geographic reality made out when the organization produced a resource around the history of reconstruction and there were real tensions between folks who had an understanding of the history let's say coming out of the office in Memphis versus folks in the Northeast who had been told a different story about that history.  And that differed again significantly from those of us out on the west coast who, in our educational framing, that was presented as something that was in the south, right, rather than a broader, national project.

Again, I do think that geography, among other factors, shape what we have access to which illuminates the fact that in many respects, we don't know what we don't know.  This is why having access to each other's thinking is critical because we have different experience of racialization.  We all get racialized but differently.  That's the conversation that we're trying to inhabit as a nation.  That's going to be a process because it runs counter to the ways in which we've been invited into this field of ideas.  Appreciate your comments.

Any other thoughts in the last four minutes?  There is a hand up.  I'm not seeing who it is though.

It just appeared to be a smiley face.  I don't see a hand up.

MILTON REYNOLDS: Okay.  Thank you.  I'm curious if anybody has any thoughts about the process itself, whether or not you were able to maintain the structure and if so, how did that help you in your thinking?

If I could speak again, this is Sushil.  I would say about the process of probably [audio not captured] I'm assuming you're talking about the process of this session.  I would say that giving participants a little bit more guidance on the reading that you pass out ahead of time, maybe even give the prompts ahead of time so that people, when they get to their groups, they can actually use time to discuss to prepare people to think about the reading.  That's one of the other thing I think [audio not captured] the question that you earlier answered about how you chose this article, I understand [audio not captured] I thought that you chose this because it was a short article.  A lot of times it is difficult to find short articles that can get to the issues.

But I think giving space to people who have been excluded before giving space to people who have always been dominating the space, you should think about that.

MILTON REYNOLDS: I appreciate the comments.  Again, I think also the length of the article was critical.  It is a short read but there's plenty of it in there.  I appreciate the thoughts on the feedback.  So having worked with this article, one of the things that I often try to do is have people have the initial read because oftentimes you read it more than once, to be a read that's pretty fresh.

The reason that I do this is oftentimes when an article is given ahead of time, what people do is they perform learning and what we want to do is get out of a performative style of learning and get no more shared meaning making.  When people have opportunity to prepare in terms of how they would like to present themselves in relationship to their learning, it tends to feed the patterns of always knowing and control.

And the reality is that for many people who belong to marginalized communities, they're oftentimes outside of the sphere of knowledge and we have to interpret our way into that space.  So creating a space for shared meaning making is one way of muting that dynamic a little bit to create more of a democratized space of learning such that somebody doesn't show up performing knowledge when, in fact, there may be things that they can only glean from being in conversation with their colleagues.  So that's a little bit behind the structure.

Thanks for that.  Let me draw your attention to something for later for disability.  Had I known that I was supposed to pick up some sentence, I would have written it in Braille.  I'm totally blind.  I'm a professor.  But I usually would do that because I cannot work in the environment where sighted people work.  They can read it right there.  I can't do that.  It makes a difference.

MILTON REYNOLDS: Point well taken.  I appreciate that feedback.  We'll bank that for sure.

So we've got time for maybe one more quick response and then what I will do is hand it over to [audio not captured] it looks like we're going to transition to the lunchtime speaker shortly.  So I want to make sure [audio not captured] are there any other announcements that need to be made prior to that?  I see a hand up.

Ken Walden, your hand is up.

Thanks.  Milton, I wonder what your thoughts are on this question.  We got bounced out of our breakout room just as we were about to discuss it.  Most recently, there's kind of a dynamic where people are getting caught having said or wrote something that was offensive 10, 20, 30 years ago.  The repercussions of that can be pretty severe.  I wonder what your thoughts about that are, that new dynamic that's emerged.

MILTON REYNOLDS: It is a complicated one for sure.  It is worthy of some discussion.  We're living in the era of social media when the things that we do become part of the permanent record, right?  I think the present moment of calling people out is evidence that, in many respects, we're still very much tied to that prejudice problematic understanding of racism, an individualistic thing.  In this moment, we see a mixture of people reacting and calling people out.  Some of which I think is important.  But the idea that somebody should be held wholly accountable for something they said 20 years ago or the tech hasn't been around that long but 10 or 15 years ago, doesn't assume that people grow and evolve as far as their thinking.

As somebody who's been in this work for 30 years, there's legitimate reasons why people get pulled into that because that's all they know and I think that's why we talk about this process.  And having a new understanding in which we situate the cause of social inequities within the systems and structures not to totally leave individuals off the hook [audio not captured] to let them off the hook as well.  Because there are times when individuals behave transgressively.  If we want to create equitable outcomes or honor the value that diversity brings to us as a system, we have to look at the systems and structures because those are the mechanisms in which meaning is assigned or denied categorically.

I know there are some moments that are more egregious than others.  I think there are patterns of affiliation that can be identified when we see people's online [audio not captured] the legacies of their past life.  I think that's a new challenge in this work.  I think we all have to be thoughtful and learn how to hold tension in this moment because what is likely is what will happen [audio not captured] again, this is one of those issues of asymmetry of power, those who have access are more likely to, out of their desire to quell the dissonance, reinstate the very understandings of the world that are causing the dissonance, rather than allow the space for new insights and understandings to create systems and structures that more critically attend to these ideas and their legacies.  I think that's probably how I would answer it.  I'll think about it a bit more.

If there are more questions that bubble up after the lunch session, let's come back to them.  These issues are complicated so it takes time on task.  There aren't any easy or quick solutions.  That's the most important big idea I would walk away with.  I appreciate the question.

Thank you very much, Milton.  We really appreciate you being here to lead us in this discussion.  As a reminder to everybody, Milton will be back again this afternoon at 2:10 eastern to lead us in the second roundtable discussion.  Coming up in about ten minutes, we have our keynote speaker, Kathy Martinez.  You don't need to leave the room.  It will be in the same room and we hope that you will all be joining us in ten minutes to hear Kathy Martinez.  Thank you, Beth, for being our Zoom host!