Allies at MIIS is a research-cum-practice initiative of the Center. The initiative seeks to motivate members of the Institute – faculty, staff and students – to become better allies for racial equity and thus contribute positively to building a more racially equitable campus and beyond.
Allies at MIIS is currently open only to MIIS students.
Allies at MIIS is a research-cum-practice initiative of the Center for Conflict Studies. The initiative began in spring 2016, in response to growing calls for acknowledgment of explicit and implicit racial bias in academic life and the need for deeper conversations about racial equity on the MIIS campus. These voices at MIIS are not unique or sole ones in academic circles. In the U.S., where many experience race in much of their social, political and economic interactions, students and academics in educational institutions, especially those of higher learning, are the loudest in demanding that we bring conversations about race more to the forefront and develop tools to deal with race-related conflicts.
It is uncomfortable and challenging for everyone involved and it makes individuals vulnerable, no matter what position they take and interests they support. It is therefore with much courage and a passionate desire to bring change that CCS, through its Allies at MIIS initiative, has taken on some of the responsibility for making the campus and all its related environments a more racially equitable space.
By racial equity, the initiative means an environment where:
(a) all identity groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, language, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, disability status, age, physical attributes, class, cultural background, nationality and more are affirmed;
(b) institutional structure and systems are equally accessible and serve members of all of the above identity groups;
(c) everyone uses a racial equity lens when identifying problems, proposing solutions and making decisions.
At the Center’s annual conference in November 2015, “Breaking Down Shades of Color: Power, Privilege and Potential in Race Conflicts,” keynote speaker Ericka Huggins encouraged attendees to be agents for change and peace.
An ally, she explained, is someone who speaks with privilege but together with the person who is disadvantaged, unrepresented and voiceless. An ally, she added, is someone who stands up when needed but steps back without a need to take credit. She concluded by saying that an ally is someone who would break the silence around racism and not become a part of the problem; that is, they would become an antidote to the disease of racism. The Allies at MIIS initiative embraces these ideas expressed by Ms. Huggins in their understanding of who is an ally. Most importantly, the initiative believes that one must earn the title of Ally; it is not an association one can choose to belong to or an honor one can claim.
Allies at MIIS will work primarily amongst members of the MIIS community but will also engage with others such as the broader Monterey community, Middlebury College community, other higher education campuses and institutions working to reduce racial inequity. The initiative seeks to:
(a) persuade members to affirm the existence of racial inequity, the first step in ensuring racial equity;
(b) encourage members to acknowledge that experiences of racial discrimination both subtle or explicit are real, thus ensuring that no one feels unheard;
(c) facilitate members to develop the racial equity lens so that those who have power and privilege may be able to identify patterns instead of problems, look beyond the individual to the system, and seek creative solutions;
(d) motivate members to become better allies for racial equity and thus contribute positively to building a more racially equitable environment on its campus and beyond;
(e) support existing safe spaces and create new ones where conversations about race happens thus making our community a better and stronger learning community.
Dr. Pushpa Iyer, Director of CCS, is the coordinator of the Allies at MIIS initiative. She oversees and supervises its various projects and liaisons with other individuals and institutions important to the initiative. The initiative operates primarily through its student members. Allies at MIIS has an 11 member advisory committee comprised of faculty, staff and alumni who will play a more significant role once the initiative lays its groundwork at MIIS.
The student members of Allies at MIIS have accepted the challenge to themselves be research subjects, and therefore study themselves for its pilot project. Studying oneself is the primary identification of an ally. Core values shared by the group are:
(a) Self-Reflection: Constant self-reflection on own values, beliefs, ethics, privilege and power and how one may become a better ally before helping the community in becoming better allies;
(b) Social Justice: Pursuing racial equity as an integral part of social justice; and further, understanding justice as fairness;
(c) Courage: Initiating difficult conversations but standing up for one's convictions; and speaking up when witnessing discrimination;
(d) Respect: Giving all experiences, values, thoughts and behavior due consideration;
(e) Agency: Acknowledging the role that each one of us plays and the burden we all share when operating under structures of racial inequity;
(f) Privilege: Accepting that everyone has privilege; that privilege is a relational concept and that we are all guilty of using and abusing privilege whether intentionally or unintentionally;
(g) Inter-connectedness: Building on the inter-dependence we have as members of a community by giving space and support to initiatives undertaken by other individuals and groups and in recognizing the shared common goal of reducing racial inequity;
(h) Communication: Commitment to initiate, contribute and engage on all matters related to racial equity and in a variety of different ways.