06.19.2019

Racial Equity Work Is an Ongoing Process

By Erica Chang, Treehouse Launch Success Coach

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In graduate school, I dove deep into post-colonial literature, a body of literary texts that responded to the discourse of colonization. These texts present the problems and consequences of decolonization of a country, especially the questions of the subjugated people.

I learned the definitions of cultural liminality, diaspora, otherness and double consciousness. I recognized how this type of work represented cultural and racial tension—the struggle of voices trying to be heard as authors wrestled with topics of racial inequality, discrimination and biases.

Working for Treehouse, the concepts of racial inequities, discrimination and biases come up as a way to create awareness and tangible action. How does Treehouse fight through the structural inequities that impact society and those who live in it? How does the organization handle the unbearableness of oppression and not retreat through it?

Treehouse does its best not to couch into comfortability, but leans into digging deep for understanding, making a conscious effort to confront inequities as the organization works toward leading with a racial equity lens. Treehouse values diversity, which is expressed not only in the individuals and communities being served, but also in its volunteers, staff and employees.

This effort further acknowledges that structural inequities have influenced us all. We use this knowledge to cultivate the success of each person—the accumulation of diverse individuals, beliefs and perspectives strengthens the capacity to affect change.

Treehouse also is dedicated to equity by investing in resources at all levels and capacities. The organization does not shy away from admitting their lack of expertise in areas and strongly asks others for help, advice and support. This ask has evolved into having courageous conversations, encouraging employees to sit in discomfort, creating opportunities to face biases and prejudices head on, and to call out injustices.

These moments have helped me understand how I show up as a Treehouse employee, how I show up for the students I work with and how I show up for myself. I understand the privilege I have and the discord it can create when working with students in foster care. I recognize that I have not endured the experiences my students have been through. I do not know what their life has been like, nor do I pretend that I do.

I am constantly learning to challenge my position in this work and understand the power imbalances, of which I have a part. I lean in with empathy, understanding that while I have not lived in my students’ shoes, I am able to recognize their injustices and bear witness to the impact.

I hold myself accountable and have the power to listen and implement change by calling things out, advocating for the needs of students and working with them to navigate in areas they have not charted. I’m mindful in giving them the reins in directing their lives and not taking ownership of their narrative. They are the drivers of their goals, and I support them in a way that works best for them.

While I have the framework on how racial inequity, discrimination and bias is presented, this is not enough. Racial equity work is an ongoing process that at times can be painfully awakening. Unlike reading a textbook and memorizing terms, racial equity work requires learning and unlearning, introspection and engagement with others. It requires admitting the faults and biases of oneself and the need to want to do better.

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About the Author

Erica Chang is a Launch Success Coach, working with students to navigate the transition into adulthood, which Treehouse defines as achieving stable housing, a degree or career credential, and a livable wage. Prior to this role, she was an Education Specialist in our Graduation Success program. She lives in Tacoma and is passionate about the work she does.


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