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DEI and the “Too Far”, “Too Much” Dilemma

Posted on September 22, 2021


mountain landscape

This guest article is by ELGL member Matt Hirschinger, Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Arvada, CO. Read all of Matt’s other articles at the Social Justice –> Government homepage.


Those of us engaging with diversity, equity, and inclusion eventually, if not immediately, run into the challenge of exasperation. “This is going too far”, “I think it’s too much”, “Didn’t we go over this last month/year?” “Oh floopy-flappy, not this equity stuff again!”

My sixth project for my coursework and passion project was done on behalf of the Colorado Parks and Recreation Association. The topic they asked me to cover was recreation marketing and equity, and asked if I could convert the final paper for the class I was in into a webinar for their membership.

HERE is a copy of the paper.

HERE is a link to the webinar.

At the core of the paper and training were three prevalent themes in the state’s recreation, themes likely common to other states, being digitalization, family, and landscape. Each of these has the potential to help with great DEI, each of these has roots and potentials to set DEI back. I tried my best to cover these pros and cons, their historical and current nuances.

Is questioning whether a depiction of the Rocky Mountains is inclusive or not going too far? Is discussing whether a website’s layout and images representative a community’s diversity too much for us to handle on top of everything else? Do statistics on changing family dynamics over the past few decades really matter to our core services? Are these considerations worth spending time and energy on, or are we better off rolling our eyes and pressing on without them?

I would argue these considerations are worth the time, though I argue it with the recognition that there are hurdles in doing so that good feelings and intentions can’t handwave. It’s a steep learning curve, my hour+ webinar scratching the surface on a niche topic. DEI gets into the emotional and uncomfortable, which is unfortunately stigmatized in the workplace. For those of us who buy-in, there’s the risk of passion burnout and fatigue. For those of us who aren’t on board with DEI, dragging our feet gets pretty tiring too.

Here are a few recommendations to move forward, to deal with the “too far”, “too much” exasperation.

Contextualize

Thoughts that DEI efforts are off base often come with a lack of context. In the case of above, someone stumbling upon the paper or webinar likely won’t see how it applies to their own life. In context, I was specifically asked to look at how Colorado recreation marketing can be more equitable by a professional association. The research and outputs were created based on the needs of Colorado recreation.

In this context it no longer seems so far-fetched, it can be redefined from excessive to useful.

Allowance for Skepticism

We do not need everyone in our organizations and communities to be 100% on board with us, to fully believe in and advocate for social justice. I do not need every Colorado recreational professional to buy into the need for more equitable marketing to provide this training. In fact, the training assumes some level of skepticism, makes a point to bring up a few mindsets, understandings before getting into the heart of the conversation.

Of the different critiques to social justice, the idea that it sometimes “goes too far” is something we can work with so long as it’s tempered with enough curiosity and openness. We can provide enough breathing room for said skeptics to put their first foot in the door, then reel them in more fully.

In our example above, we just need someone with skepticism to watch just enough of the video to start learning.

Strategic Engagement

One small “secret” I have with my current passion project is that I’m acting very much as an olive branch as I learn and become more competent in my knowledge and applications of DEI. I’m approaching Colorado local government associations as a peer to build connection, as a graduate student doing a project to establish validity, and as I complete more projects use them to normalize and popularize the work. All of this is intentional to reduce resistance and create buy-in. I avoided the “too far”, “too much” dilemma by being strategic.

If a department head thinks we’ve gone too far, take half a step back. If it’s too complicated for one stakeholder group, simplify it. As long as we hold onto our goal, a goal of effective diversity, equity, and inclusion, we do not compromise our genuine selves by being more strategic. We ebb and flow to meet people where they are at and then work meaningfully to shift our work.

Is questioning whether a webpage featuring a beautiful landscape is equitable or not going too far? is it too much? is it a waste of time? The Colorado Parks and Recreation Association didn’t think so, and neither do I.

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