Underlying Assumptions

The following assumptions are foundational to our work:

  • People learn best in environments that are safe and supportive and that foster dialogue rather debate. Taking time to build trust among participants is essential.
  • "Safe" does not mean that we’re too comfortable and not challenging ourselves. It’s possible (and extremely important) for our learning environments to be both supportive and challenging so that people are invited to examine their preconceived notions and assumptions about people different than themselves.
  • The learning process must include opportunities for people to "do their own work" – to examine how they’ve learned about issues related to their own identities as well as the identities and issues of those different than themselves.
  • It's essential that we focus on intersections and multiple forms of identity including race, gender, class, disabilities, sexual orientation and other differences. While we shine a light on each of these areas in order to deepen our learning about specific forms of oppression, we believe that single-issue work is at risk for simplifying the complexities of these issues which too often presents barriers to ally-building and deep change.
  • Building, strengthening and sustaining our relationships across differences is an important part of any multicultural change process.
  • Education needs to engage people at multiple levels including thinking, feeling and behaviors. Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand, notice, name and tend to our feelings – is a very important part of the process of growth and learning.
  • Education is not enough. Significant change will only happen when we’re willing to work together to examine and change systems and structures in our organizations. These systems include written and unwritten policies, procedures, practices and rules that advantage some groups and disadvantage others.
  • We cannot just focus on "celebrating diversity." Working together to understand issues of power and privilege is an essential part of the learning and change process. These issues are complex and are often painful to those most impacted. It's not about blame, shame or guilt. Our work must ultimately strive to create more welcoming, inclusive, accessible, equitable and just environments for all.
  • Too many diversity training approaches focus only on personal beliefs and interpersonal interactions. Issues of race, gender, class and other differences must be examined at four levels (personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural) and we must work for change at all of these levels if we are committed to deep and sustained change in our organizations and communities.
  • Developing a critical lens through which to examine larger societal messages – including those in the media – is essential to the process of change. From childhood through adulthood we are bombarded with thousands of messages every day. These messages are often laced with limiting, inaccurate and damaging stereotypes that inform our beliefs about ourselves and people different from us – more than we may know.
  • Working to strengthen relationships and create change at four levels benefits everyone by improving the overall health and climate of organizations and encouraging creativity, productivity, greater access, improved decision-making and problem-solving.