I just wrote about the silliness of personifying TFA in order to complain about it. But for now, I’m talking outside the realm of my own personal TFA experience, and while I guess I could just email this straight to TFA’s Executive Vice President of People, Community, and Diversity (maybe I will), I still want to start this conversation and hear your thoughts.
Our Diversity Core Value: “We act on our belief that the movement to ensure educational equity will succeed only if it is diverse in every respect. In particular, we value the perspective and credibility that individuals who share the racial and economic backgrounds of the students with whom we work can bring to our organization, classrooms, and the long-term effort for change.”
It’s interesting, because the webpage on TFA’s diversity statement doesn’t mention equal access to the organization as being something we need to ensure. The stated reasons we strive for diversity are pretty much based in the interests of the organization and our mission: a) we benefit from the talent and energy of all, b) it increases our chances of TFA entering “circles of influence” nationwide, and c) we want to be a model for other organizations. Then there’s d) that special word about the profound additional impact of corps members who share similar racial backgrounds as our students.
I suppose it might be kind of awkward for us to say access to TFA itself is an amazing life-changing prestigious opportunity that should be accessed equally by members of all races—the site is wonderfully single-minded about the mission to close the achievement gap, and stopping to acknowledge that being accepted to TFA is an “ends” of sorts might be a distraction from that intense focus. But I find it interesting that in the diversity statement, the diversity core value, and the “diversity in the corps” page on the admissions site, the only blip that addresses access (specifically, access of people of color to TFA, not vice versa) is the following, found in the list of initiatives to increase diversity: “Providing interview preparation resources, including online tutorials, to remove any barriers that might prevent candidates from displaying their true abilities during the application and interview process.”
It feels like even with all the reading material we provide on diversity, this is the only place the TFA website acknowledges extra barriers that people of color face, except for noting that a disproportionately small number of college graduates are African-American or Hispanic.
I don’t know exactly what that means. Maybe it’s appropriate for TFA to keep the service-y image and save talking about extra barriers for DCA sessions within the corps. Maybe the initiatives TFA takes to increase our own access to people of color (recruiting at HBCUs and HSIs, focusing on campus organizations like Black Student Unions or the Native American Student Alliance, etc) are enough and differentiating access of TFA to POCs or access of POCs to TFA is splitting hairs. Maybe we don’t want donors to think our website smells too much like Affirmative Action.
All it means for me is that I’m left wishing our official blurbs on diversity would at least mention something about oppression or racism. While this omission might not seem particularly harmful, it still allows the casual web surfer to read everything TFA has to say about diversity and still deny systemic racism and believe in meritocracy. I think we should go further and acknowledge that the mission we are so focused on will never happen if we don’t directly challenge those ideas.
Solution: I think we should adopt a Commitment To Diversity On Steroids—on our website’s pages about TFA and diversity, I think we should a) acknowledge unmistakeably that systemic, institutionalized racism exists, provide a short explanation of hegemony or white privilege, and link to sites or organizations where readers can learn more, and b) specifically adopt and rephrase initiatives not only to increase our own access for our own benefit, but to make ourselves more accessible.
Possible? Inconsequential? Asking too much? Beside the point? Thoughts?