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NC State University Libraries Shift Diversity Training to Focus on Dismantling Systemic Racism

by Jennifer Garrett, Director, Talent Management, NC State University Libraries

Contemporary diversity training often addresses prejudicial mindsets, unconscious bias, and “whiteness” as a normative frame. While these experiences are valuable, few training sessions focus on the history of race in the US and the impact of policies and norms on racialized (and other) populations.

The NC State University Libraries explored bringing this transformative content to the libraries through the Racial Equity Institute (REI), an organization that provides anti-racism and social justice training. The libraries focused on having staff who influence hiring, work culture, and the development of services attend the REI workshops, beginning with Phase I, in the hopes of raising their awareness of the ways in which race impacts work, employees, users, and services. Because this work was considered an essential strategic priority, the NC State University Libraries were able to allocate special funding to carry it out. Other libraries might be able to pursue a similar approach or investigate grant funding to participate in REI.

exterior view of Hunt Library at NCSU
James B. Hunt Jr. Library, NC State University

The NC State University Libraries’ participation in the Racial Equity Institute is serving as a foundation for continuing conversations and actions around equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in the libraries and at the university level. While the libraries have worked hard over many years to create a diverse, equitable, and welcoming environment for staff and patrons, recent incidents of racial violence in the US and the resulting protests and calls for racial justice have highlighted the imperative to address these issues more deeply and comprehensively. The libraries are committing time, resources, and energy to a range of EDI efforts, which are being articulated in a 14-point Framework for Action developed by the senior vice provost and director of libraries in consultation with the Diversity Committee, management and leadership teams, and many other staff members.

There needs to be a shift from a primary focus on diversity training toward an intentional, anti-racist frame and associated, concrete strategies if libraries really hope to effect change. REI helps to create that frame for addressing and dismantling the deeply embedded “disease” that is systemic racism, rather than focusing on the symptoms of it. The NC State University Libraries could serve as a model for other libraries to implement this kind of change in their organizations.

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