By Janel Breen, member of the Rotary Club of Cupertino and Rotaract Club of Silicon Valley, General Secretary of Big West Rotaract Multi-District Informational Organization
Let’s play a game. I’m American. What assumptions have you just made about me? My parents are Filipino immigrants. How have those assumptions now changed?
Without realizing it, we make assumptions of people on the little we actually know about them. Everyone has some prejudicial beliefs. It’s how society taught us to think. After all, how did societies like mine define lighter skin as the universal truth for “beautiful”? But we CAN change it. We CAN confront these beliefs if we are intentional about it, but we can’t get defensive. We have to accept that our understanding of the world is changing and to do better with our new knowledge.
My personal journey with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) began a few years ago as mandatory work training (before this, I didn’t think I needed any training). I learned about “unconscious bias” and became uncomfortable with the idea that I could unknowingly and unintentionally hurt someone else’s experience.
I started to learn as much as I could about DEI and how to be an ally – using my privileges which include, but are not limited to, being born in the country I live in and claiming “American” as my nationality, identifying with the same gender written on my birth certificate, and receiving a private high school and college education – to help others that may be oppressed or marginalized. But my progress was slow and completely internal.
Then, the video of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, made headlines around the world. With it, came a much louder call for racial justice and for everyone to do better. At Big West Rotaract MDIO (BWR), we spent hours creating our own Black Lives Matter statement because we wanted to create actionable and lasting change within our own organization, making commitments that we intend to keep.
Our statement was just the beginning of the work we plan to do. We have hosted monthly open forums where Rotarians and Rotaractors can talk about addressing systemic racism in our communities and clubs, added a Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) forum to our big events for our BIPOC community to talk about their experiences, included a DEI session as part of our leadership training, and created a committee tasked with creating resources for Rotaractors to address DEI in their clubs and districts.
We knew this critical topic was bigger than just Big West Rotaract, but how could we reach Rotaractors all over the world? In late 2019, Alia Ali, member of the Rotaract Club of Surrey-Newton, Canada, and I had already applied to co-host a training at the Rotaract Preconvention about how to be an ally and by early June 2020 as tensions grew around the world, we realized that training was more important than we could ever have imagined. As the world went virtual, including the first-ever virtual Rotaract Postconvention, we knew we had a unique opportunity to share our message about addressing DEI within Rotary for anyone to watch on-demand.
We still have a lot of work to do – in our clubs, in our communities, and in ourselves. In reality, the work will never be done and we should embrace the opportunity for continual growth. Although we train on DEI specifically and intentionally, DEI in practice should be part of everything we do including our conversations when we conduct any kind of business within or outside of Rotary. Additionally, the people who attend DEI trainings are typically the individuals who have already begun their own DEI journeys. How do we get the person who doesn’t think there’s a problem to care about DEI? How do we keep working towards change long after the hashtags stop trending on social media?
We do the work that needs to be done and never stop. We commit to practicing this work, day in and day out, within ourselves and through our external commitments, behind the scenes and out in public.
Learn more about Rotary’s position on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion