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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in faith communities

by Joanne Safian, RSHMCategory: Updates

Over the last several years, the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-Asian sentiment arising during the pandemic, and the rejection of immigrants and refugees at our Southern border make it clear that bias and discrimination are all too present and virulent in our society.

Less obvious, however, are the ways in which we are unintentionally complicit through unconscious bias and microaggressions in the discrimination we abhor—not only in the public arena, but even within our personal relationships and communities.

Wyneisha Kinsey Huntt (3rd from left) with Srs. Catherine Vincie, Susan Gardella, and Rosamond Blanchet

Wyneisha Kinsey Huntt

Wyneisha presenting at a microphone

To address this aspect of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we welcomed Wyneisha Kinsey Huntt as presenter at our Area Day in February, when we celebrate the founding of our RSHM Institute.

She is a graduate of Preston High School, a Sisters of Divine Compassion school in the Bronx, NY. Wyneisha has a degree in Black Studies and Critical Race Theory from NYU and is now completing a Master of Divinity from New York Theological Seminary. Manager of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, she has over eight years of experience in legal recruiting and employee engagement for underrepresented groups in law. She also gives workshops to school boards and other organizations, such as the Archdiocesan Council of Women Religious.

Wyneisha’s presentation was set in the context of the Gospel. She noted that because we are secure in God’s forgiveness and love, we are able “to confess our complicity in structures of injustice and oppression, to become generous conversation partners, and to welcome and learn from those who are different from us.”

She was dynamic, personable, and engaging, enabling us to look honestly at ourselves without becoming defensive.

Unconscious bias & microagressions

Bias is the leaning toward or away from something or someone because of previous experience; for example, an attack by a dog can lead to the assumption that all dogs are vicious. Unconscious biases result from social stereotypes from outside our conscious awareness; for example, biases about race, gender, age, physical ability, education, religion, culture, politics, family structure, and so on. As we listened to Wyneisha’s explanations, it was impossible not to “self-check”— how have I succumbed to unconscious bias in my perceptions of other individuals and groups?

A workshop participant looks over materials.

Wyneisha explained that microaggressions are expressions of unconscious bias evidenced in the everyday slights, put-downs, and dismissiveness that members of marginalized groups experience. The individual committing the microaggression is often unaware of being offensive or demeaning. The difference between intent and impact is key. I may want to affirm someone when I say, “you’re so articulate,” but the person hears that I don’t expect someone of her race, ethnicity, or educational level to be well-spoken. Similarly, claiming that we “don’t see color” invalidates the identity of the person of color we are speaking to or about.

So how do we avoid these obstacles to relationships? We stop. Think. Self-check. Ask questions. Make space in our lives for those who are different from me or my group. We do the hard work of dialogue and reconciliation. The sisters were very enthusiastic about Wyneisha’s presentation and found the applicability to our own cultural diversity especially relevant. In small groups, we shared on the questions:

  • “What did you learn about yourself today?”
  • “What do you need to start, stop, or continue doing?”
  • “How can compassion inform how you interact with others?”

These self-checks challenge us to create an inclusive environment in our ministries and communities, to promote a sense of belonging, and to value the diverse talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of others.

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