On Belonging, Action, and Accountability: An Update on JEDI at AAG
By Risha RaQuelle
It’s hard to believe that I will celebrate my first year at AAG in just a few months. As I close in on this eventful year of implementing AAG’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) plan, I’d like to offer an update on our work so far, and to explain how it connects with the creation of a Culture of Care at AAG and in the discipline.
JEDI Plan Implementation
At AAG 2023 in Denver, I had my first chance to meet many of you in person, and to hear about your experiences and hopes for AAG’s JEDI initiative. In collaboration with our Communications team we designed a JEDI Booth at the Annual Meeting with a comment board for members to use to scan QR codes to provide feedback in six areas: Member Engagement, Virtual Repository, Truth and Reconciliation Task Force and production of Geography Videos to highlight JEDI scholars. We utilized this feedback to inform insights for incorporation into our implementation planning. A major milestone from that kick-off in Denver is that dozens of AAG members have volunteered for the seven JEDI working groups discussed below. I am grateful for your engagement.
Since April, the JEDI Committee has been at work creating and populating the seven working groups who are collectively activating the 32-point JEDI plan. We have created a framework for the work, called TLC GRAM, which stands for Training, Listening, Communications; and Governance, Reports, Advocacy, and Membership. These seven areas correspond exactly to the seven working groups. I’ll discuss those more in this article.
State of Geography and JEDI-Oriented Storytelling
AAG has woven action and education for JEDI values directly into its daily activities. Just a few highlights include the State of Geography report, which examined known and newer trends in the demographics and inequities of degree conferral; and the use of social media and website stories to showcase the diversity of our discipline through the voices of our members.
- AAG’s Statement on Academic Freedom
- Statement on the Targeting of Diversity Education and Critical Inquiry by U.S. States and a follow-up sign-on statement asking the College Board to maintain program integrity for the African American Studies AP course
- A letter and follow-up resources list on police brutality. Letter On the Structural and Spatial Forces that Contribute to Police Brutality Access the resource list
AAG also integrated JEDI principles into its programming and cohort selection for the new Elevate the Discipline program, which provides geographers with advocacy and media training. This year’s theme was Climate and Society; 15 scholars were selected from 11 U.S. states and Barbados to participate.
JEDI Approach to all AAG Activities
We are working with all AAG staff to elevate JEDI principles throughout the organization’s work, including membership, professional development, advocacy, and events.
For example, we have created internal checklists informed by various taskforces to guide staff as we improve member experiences at the Annual Meeting, incorporating feedback from the Mental Health Taskforce, and the Accessibility Taskforce to ensure a framework for reinforcing a harassment free AAG.
We have also worked closely with President Lave and Executive Director Langham to incorporate insights from the JEDI Committee into planning for our upcoming annual meeting, with awareness to inform our Culture of Care approach with this and subsequent Annual Meetings.
Our year-round webinar offerings often address JEDI topics, including the recent and popular webinar, in partnership with trubel&co, which introduced department chairs to the Mapping Justice workshop approach for high school students, focusing especially on providing students of color with GIS tools for mapping issues of consequence and importance to them, including public health, food justice, environmental justice, and more. So far, nine geography departments have approached trubel&co to work together on campus programming for high school students.
The seven JEDI committees’ work is growing in specificity daily; I anticipate much more progress to report in upcoming columns. In this one, I’d like to take another moment to say more about some of the terms we are using to describe our work on the JEDI plan.
Defining a Culture of Care
This year, I introduced the concept of “Culture of Care” into our discussions about achieving JEDI goals for the discipline and within AAG. The Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California-Berkeley offers this definition of Cultures of Care: “practices that create belonging in the context of othering. A Culture of Care is an affirmative, generative form of resistance and adaptation.”
In other words, a Culture of Care — whether at work, in a friendship network, or among members of an organization like AAG — creates a haven of care and inclusiveness, in contrast to othering and oppression. As AAG Lifetime Achievement winner and abolitionist geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore has said, “What the world will become already exists in fragments and pieces, in experiments and possibilities.”
The closely related term “belonging” is also a key goal of our work. The Othering and Belonging Institute says, “The concept of belonging describes more than a feeling of inclusion or welcome. Its full power is as a strategic framework for addressing ongoing structural and systemic othering, made visible, for example, in the wide disparities in outcomes found across a variety of sectors and identity groups.”
TLC GRAM is more than a handy mnemonic (although with a 32-point plan, that function is appreciated!). It is also the frame on which a Culture of Care can be built by AAG.
No single part of TLC GRAM is more important than another. All must work together. Although the TLC part of TLC GRAM — Training, Listening, and Communication — is the heart of our efforts to be more just and inclusive, these efforts are only as good as our accountability. GRAM (Governance, Reports, Advocacy, and Membership) help AAG maintain our responsibility for equity and diversity, alongside inclusiveness and justice. These areas correspond exactly to the seven subcommittees now assembled to work on aspects of the JEDI plan.
Training – JEDI Subcommittee
(Chaired by Robin Lovell, Ph.D.)
This subcommittee will provide opportunities for JEDI learning through resources online, existing training opportunities, and AAG workshops. Specialty and affinity groups may organize programs in support of their own JEDI mission and goals.
Listening – JEDI Subcommittee
(Chaired by Debarchana Ghosh, Ph.D.; JEDI Committee Member & Council Liaison)
This subcommittee is already underway with JEDI Office Hours. JEDI listening sessions will be offered at key meetings, including the AAG Annual Meeting, regional meetings, and in other venues. AAG will assess opportunities to reach out to marginalized students, work with community colleges, and, potentially, connect with K-12 teachers and students.
Communications – JEDI Subcommittee
(Chaired by Caroline Nagel, Ph.D., Chair of the JEDI Committee)
This subcommittee is optimizing the website, AAG Newsletter, and other platforms to be more JEDI-focused, share more information, and provide more opportunities for interaction. The subcommittee is also examining ways to tell a more complete story about the discipline’s history and current realities, through multimedia storytelling, a proposed new Truth and Reconciliation Task Force, and a virtual repository of JEDI resources.
Participate in AAG’s weekly JEDI Office Hours. You can reserve a time to talk with staff about your ideas for advancing JEDI.
In the areas of accountability – GRAM – AAG has laid out these objectives:
Governance – JEDI Subcommittee
(Chaired by Joseph Wood, Ph.D.)
Among the subcommittee’s focal points are regular audits of AAG governance structures to identify and address systemic or structural barriers to achieving JEDI excellence. AAG will use the results of these audits to adjust and amend policies to reflect guiding JEDI principles, and foster collaboration among committees, task forces, and other entities engaged in JEDI work (e.g., Anti-Harassment Task Force, Accessibility Task Force). JEDI will also be a standing agenda item at all meetings of the AAG Executive Committee and the AAG Council.
Reporting – JEDI Subcommittee
(Chaired by Risha RaQuelle, Ph.D.)
Using voluntary information from members, the subcommittee will work with AAG to better understand the discipline’s representation of diverse identities, research specialties, departmental affiliations, and institutional affiliations. Working with the Healthy Departments Committee, the subcommittee will develop an evaluation tool for departments and programs to assess their own status, policies, practices, and progress toward JEDI success.
Advocacy – JEDI Subcommittee
(Co-Chaired by Mia White, PhD, and Meghan Cope, Ph.D. – JEDI Committee Members)
This subcommittee will advise AAG on advocacy issues at the intersection of geography and JEDI advancement.
Membership – JEDI Subcommittee
(Chaired by Russell Smith, Ph.D. – JEDI Committee Member)
This subcommittee will advise AAG regarding its membership fee structure, recruitment, and retention strategy to attract and increase the proportion of members from formerly excluded groups and institutions (e.g., MSIs, HBCUs, HSIs, Community Colleges, and Tribal Colleges) across professional and academic spheres. The subcommittee will also explore new ways of recognizing JEDI best practices and leadership through its awards program.
Each committee meets every other month. The next meetings will be held in September, with workplan deliverables due in December. We will unveil our updates and approach to operationalizing the workplans at the Annual Meeting.
The TLC GRAM working groups are ongoing, and AAG welcomes participation. You can also sign up for a visit with AAG staff during JEDI Office Hours (any topic is welcome; AAG will set some topics this fall, for example research partnership opportunities with us will be discussed in October.) You can reserve a time to talk with staff about your ideas for advancing JEDI with any thoughts, questions, or ideas.
Find out more about AAG’s JEDI Plan implementation at AAG Culture of Care to find out more.