Online Anti-Oppressive Orientation During COVID-19

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down physical college campuses in the spring, many institutions are planning to continue their fall semester in an online setting. In May 2020, we restructured a previously in-person program to an asynchronous and synchronous anti-oppressive orientation program entitled, Power, Privilege and Positionality (PPP) to address recent national uprisings at the intersection of COVID-19. We imagine many of our colleagues find themselves in a similar situation where they are planning a virtual orientation in which they want to address these topics. We would like to share advice about how and where to start in moving orientation to a hybrid form as well as how we incorporated racial justice issues in our content.

Dr. Kimberly A. Truong

What is PPP?

PPP is a program intended to create dialogue and reflection on Power, Privilege, Positionality and their connections to the health professions. This program is usually a five hour in person experience during orientation which we are adapting to be held virtually. Participants are current faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Participants will be divided into groups and they will have a learning space created for them in D2L where articles and film materials will be posted. Each participant is expected to complete all assignments shared on D2L, including viewings, readings, completing worksheets, and responding to discussion board questions. Each group will have 1-2 Facilitators who will facilitate and monitor discussions on D2L and lead a zoom meeting after our synchronous session.

Our curriculum development in May was designed to address racism and COVID-19 weeks before movements seeking justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were national news. For a month prior to our synchronous session in June, participants read a list of selected articles, watched a documentary and responded to discussion questions asynchronously on race and racism. Our synchronous session, open to the entire campus community, took place on June 1, 2020, which was right after a weekend of widespread demonstrations. Almost 300 participants joined our session to begin anti-oppressive dialogue as a Graduate institute focused on the health professions. We have already completed one PPP program for our incoming students and are in the process of implementing another one for our incoming fall students.

1. Anti-Racism or Anti-Oppression?: An anti-opppressive framework is inherently anti-racist. We found this framework to prompt broader systemic thinking and recognition of how systems of oppression like racism and cisheteropatriarchy are interconnected. We actively model anti-oppression in this online course through active learning and support for students engaging in dialogue on the discussion board. We model to faculty how we could structure a course on JEDI issues as well as how we might respond to students in the discussion board who may make a comment that makes others uncomfortable. We also model how we support students who are new to these conversations in the small group setting.

2. Recruit and train faculty and staff involved in facilitating. The research shows that many faculty do not feel equipped to have conversations about race and racism. We held a two-hour workshop for faculty to prepare them to facilitate these conversations about race and racism at orientation. We developed and provided painstakingly detailed training materials with additional resources for faculty. The synchronous professional development also allowed faculty to practice their skills. We also provided them with examples of conversations they might find challenging to have with students. While this workshop was meant to support faculty by giving them tools to have these conversations at orientation, many of them discussed (even months after) how they have used these skills in the classroom setting.

Kay Martinez

3. Develop a curriculum grounded in sociohistorical perspective and has an interdisciplinary approach to understanding racism and the racial disparities racism produces. The course materials helped students to understand race as a social construct. We explicitly define racism as a system of oppression and multiple examples from videos as well as readings. Our readings for Summer 2020 focused on racial disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic and their inextricable link to racism. While we plan to keep some of the readings from Summer 2020, we are adding a few newer readings about the Black Lives Matter movement.

4. Create asynchronous and synchronous opportunities for students to connect and learn.  Not everyone can spend hours online. Our in-person PPP was a 5-hour in-person workshop. However, when we shifted to the virtual environment during the pandemic, we recognized the inequities that exist for many of our students. Some may not have stable access to the internet. Others may have care taking responsibilities at home and do not have hours to devote to sitting at a computer. Still others may experience Zoom fatigue or migraines from sitting too long in these sessions. Therefore, we created a 2-hour asynchronous module for students with videos, readings, and discussion board posts to engage them. We also held a 90-minute synchronous session to delve deeper into the concepts of PPP, community building, and small group discussions to debrief the experience.

5. Commit to having 100% faculty and staff participation in anti-oppressive orientation. As an organization that recently announced our anti-oppression initiative, we are also committed to a goal of 100% participation in PPP from our faculty and staff as participants and facilitators. We believe PPP helps us to build a foundation of knowledge about racism as well as a common language about power, privilege, and positionality, from which we can build.

We invite university leaders, especially those who have committed to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion through written statements denouncing racial injustice, to commit to anti-oppression action. Orientation programming is one easy first step to get faculty, staff, and students involved in engaging in these important conversations. We invite our student affairs colleagues and JEDI colleagues to partner on an orientation program that centers on the discussion on race and racism; that is aligned with espoused mission statements of having graduates be well-prepared to live and work in a diverse world; and acknowledges the lived experiences of the marginalized and minoritized students we seek to diversify our college campuses.

Dr. Kimberly A. Truong  is an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and executive director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at MGH Institute of Health Professions.

Kay Martinez is an instructor and associate director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Office at MGH Institute of Health Professions.

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