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Can't Stop, Won't Stop

Picture the moment you watch a police officer kneel on a Black man's (George Floyd)  neck on the side of a busy street with folks watching. To go further, reflect on the moment when police bombarded a Black woman's “Breonna Taylor” and shot her to death. If you are reading this, I am sure your heart has been tugged on, and you remember where you were sitting in 2020 during a global pandemic. Nevertheless, you may always remember the influence of solidarity of standing against racial injustices and a racial awakening that America had some deep-rooted issues that we have continuously glossed over for decades. Maybe you participated in marches in your city or watched via your television; wherever you were, you felt this immense pressure to be a change agent. Whether that was true action statements, donations, or implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training, everyone was scrambling around, trying to be reactive change agents. Specifically, being a Black male researcher-practitioner, I had “hope” in 2020 that we were beginning to peel back the layers of America that, for decades, we, as critical scholars and communities of color, have been sharing since slavery. Or so we thought.

Trevor McCrayTrevor McCrayIn late 2020, the 46th president, Donald Trump, signed an act federally banning the implementation of DEI training. However, although on state levels, it was decided that many entities could still pursue the need for the training, what it did was provide verbiage for what we are seeing in 2022/2023 with bills banning DEI efforts across the board. Specifically, you see on the state level that there is more detailed content within their “Anti-DEI” legislation that bans DEI offices, training, staff positions, and any form of DEI programming that could be aligned with left-wing ideology. So, three years after a racial awakening, we are plagued with various states (Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, North Carolina, etc.) who have either passed bills or have introduced Anti-DEI bills. Although there was a feeling that the needle was moving forward, we are backpedaling and being demanded by right-wing ideology that if we continue to implement DEI initiatives, we would be adding to the divisiveness of America. Because, in reality, there was never a will to change the fabric of America’s DNA. The late Toni Morrison stated, “The very serious function of racism is a distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” Or as the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who is often quoted by many, stated in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, “For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Even though we thought America was moving the needle, we have just been hammered down yet again, continuously reminding us that “wait” truly means we will never truly have justice in America, nor does justice seem to be a collective goal. As career services professionals who work or have worked in Texas, this has impacted us deeply that such a heavily populated minoritized state would pass legislation that could hurt the very citizens the state strives to elevate within their workforce agendas. As we strive to understand the direction of our work during an era of Texas Senate Bill 17 (SB17), we felt it was important to share how we have navigated this piece of legislation while also sharing data we collected during a conference presentation this past year. Our goal for sharing this information is to bring community, share research and personal narratives from three professionals, and build solidarity amongst higher education practitioners. As we stated during our session, it is not if it happens to your state; it is when it will happen to your state.

Director perspective

Kamara JacksonKamara JacksonDuring the development of this presentation, I spoke from the position of serving as an African American female leading a Career Center at a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) in Texas. While presenting to the audience, it was important for me to share quick facts on my institution’s demographic, the impact of SB17 on the Career Center, and the psychological impact of SB17 on staff and its position of abandoning DEI initiatives. In addition, as an African American female, it was critical for me to share the internal battle of navigating SB17 while dispelling micro-aggressive/passive-aggressive leadership, policing tone/voice, and code-switching. I believe although it’s been a scuttlebutt conversation regarding the implementation of “anti-DEI bills,” there has been little to no conversation on how it is impacting Black women who serve in leadership roles. So, it was imperative for me to create a space for our voices to be heard as we enter a scary era of American history. If the pandemic has not taught us anything else, it has taught us that our mental health is vital to the ways in which we show up in our personal lives and professional lives.  Moreover, adapting the bill also meant that as a director, I had to develop alternative language to incorporate within our strategic plan to leverage in the HSI Career Center, which included verbiage such as global fluency, first generation, social and economically disadvantaged. While I know it’s nothing, we can do to reverse the legislation at this point, what I have realized is that we have to gain an understanding of where we are mentally and understand our real why for doing this work. Finally, we as presenters felt it was important to provide two guiding questions at the beginning of our presentation:

·     Why do we need to “move on” from inclusive practices?

·      How many of us in the room have concerns and anxiety around SB17? 

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