Last summer, I began my tenure as the vice president for equity, inclusion, and community relations. Though there are many intersections to my work, one important facet of my position is an important focus on connecting Madison College’s mission to the greater Madison Area community. Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to participate, partner with, and sponsor numerous community events focused on purposeful dialogue, collaborations, and social justice. Time and again, these conversations and events circled back to core questions about how we at Madison College might improve when fostering a culture of greater belonging and engagement among our students, employees, and community partners.

Being new to the Madison Area Community affords me the opportunity to bring fresh eyes and learn from established community leaders. Daily I ask myself how to amplify the voices of those closest to the problem. How can I help communities listen past their perceptions of right vs. wrong? How can I combat the fatigue of communities who seek change now, but change often happens slowly?

I offer the Madison Area Community several conscious inclusion frames that intersect with my work to guide you in thinking in times when you may be unsure of how to close the divides that separate us from one another or in instances of strong, critical disagreement. We live in an increasingly fractured and polarized world — there will likely be other moments of conflict and discourse because of the different ways we walk through it.

Find ways to be “In Community.” All too often, the work of creating an inclusive and welcoming environment falls to those who inhabit marginalized spaces in our community. Being “in community” means participating in the centering of those who are often structurally excluded and amplifying their needs. There is often a divide between those who are academic researchers and those who are practitioners. I argue that it’s the people who have been closest to the problem who have the most experience with it, can elevate real concerns, devise the most pointed solutions, and engage in community support. Therefore, people with lived experience not only led us to better solutions but also inspire others to realize the value in themselves and the greater community. 

Combat Confirmation Bias. There are moments in the work of creating an inclusive community that requires us to lean in and listen to those on the margins rather than lead with our own perspectives or sense of what’s right and wrong. When we only surround ourselves with those who agree or confirm what we already know, we miss the learning that happens when we allow ourselves to lean into the uncomfortableness of the unknown. In dialogue with people who inhabit the margins, we can learn about the circumstances and realities that some of us are born into or have endured. Later in this issue, there will be an article written by Madison College Employees that provides new light and learning to CRT (page 40).

Moving from small steps to big leaps. If history has shown us anything, it is that social justice and social change are rarely, if ever, delivered in a swift, linear fashion. To this end, the work of equity often is accompanied by the idea that equity work implies moving incrementally and cautiously, anticipating little immediate progress. That we must walk before we run. However, when it comes to addressing longstanding institutional injustices causing trauma and disparities right now, those in our communities who are the most vulnerable need justice now. Justice means eradicating harm now; it means actively cultivating justice. Shifting equity thinking to big leaps allows us to center those who are the most vulnerable in our community, which is more transformative, requires deliberate, bold thinking and action, and allows us to shift our intention. 

It’s important to me to continue to find ways to be “in-community” and amplify the voices of Madison’s unique communities. 

Dr. Damira Grady

Vice President for Equity, Inclusion, and Community Relations 

Madison College