Training for Racial Healing and Understanding: A WOU-Led Local Initiative

Dr. Jaclyn Caires-Hurley, a WOU assistant professor in the Department of Education & Leadership, and Dr. Greg Willeford, a WOU Criminal Justice professor, recently created a training program titled Racial Healing and Understanding, following important and sensitive American events regarding racism in 2020. The training is designed for local communities, businesses, and administrators in the public sector. Caires-Hurley broke the program down into greater detail for us, explaining its conception, target audience, and overarching goals.


What were the stages of creating this training program? Who else has been involved?

The sociopolitical events of 2020 made it imperative that all public offices critically examine their policies and practices. The communities around WOU are no exception, and last spring, a few cities conducted a number of community-based listening sessions and determined that an important action step would be to seek out education on anti-racism. WOU is committed to supporting our communities, and we are committed to ensuring that the students who come to our university experience justice and equity on and off campus. For this reason, when these [public offices] approached us for support, we were ready to respond. The original request for a training on anti-racism came in late summer 2020. Deans Kathy Cassity and Mark Girod invited Greg Willeford, who has extensive experience in law enforcement and criminal justice, and me, an assistant professor of multicultural education and critical pedagogy, if we would propose a training model. The proposal was accepted and a contract was drawn up during Fall Term. We started the 10 week training on January 7, 2021.


Who is this training designed for?

The training for Racial Healing and Understanding was designed by public sector employees for public sector employees. We designed the program around WOU’s academic calendar so that it could be efficiently replicated; however, it is designed for community partners who are non-WOU students. The course offers local communities and businesses an opportunity to partner with WOU, and it is facilitated by educators and diversity activists representing a blend of academic disciplines and professional practice in education, government, criminal justice, and business. 


Why were you and collaborators inspired to develop this?

We believe that public sector employees need to disrupt administrative cycles of racism. Individual, interpersonal, and institutional racism require a concerted effort to help individuals unpack how we arrived at the level of civil injustice and political unrest that we see in our communities today. Public sector employees need healing and understanding if we are to move forward as a community. As a regional institution of higher education, we have a responsibility to re-mediate what previous generations didn’t learn or need to unlearn about the role of white supremacy in local, public affairs. We have the local expertise to accomplish this, so we feel socially responsible to participate in this movement for social change.


What is the intended outcome of the program/its mission?

The program outcomes are for participants to know how to examine their internal and interpersonal racism, and be able to identify how institutional racism has been structured across time and space. Participants will study their identity, learn about equity literacy, and be able to redress situations and decisions that reflect bias, discrimination, and racism. 


What are the main points and subjects you emphasize?

A central component of this training is “coming to terms.” In this way, we hope participants will understand [what] ordinary racism is, and that public discourse concerning racism in 2021 differs from how we were taught about racism in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and even the early 2000’s. We expect participants to be able to decenter themselves, to see racism as a system, and disrupt the good/bad binary (i.e. “But I’m a good person”). We teach participants that because of the messages we’ve received by participating in a white supremist society, we are all conditioned to hold internal racism and [are] capable of exercising interpersonal racism at any given time. Finally, gaining a race consciousness will hopefully help to dismantle historic sources of oppression in the workplace. 


What’s the program’s agenda for the next couple months?

We recently responded to a request for services from another organization. This shows us that there is a demand for this type of training. Our program is currently in its first iteration. When the first program is complete, we plan to debrief and review feedback from participants and then make changes. 

2 comments on “Training for Racial Healing and Understanding: A WOU-Led Local Initiative”

  1. Very interested in attending the 2nd training. Do you allow outside organizations attend?

    Thank you in advance for your time and consideraton.

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