A Model Learning Program for Racial Justice | ALA Annual 2021

Staff and a student from the University of Maine discuss the creation of the Racial Justice Challenge subject guide, designed to provide a week-long, self-paced, learning experience.

Jen Bonnet, social sciences and humanities librarian, and Anila Karunakar, director, Office for Diversity and Inclusion, both from the University of Maine, along with Madelyn Woods, a PhD student at the university’s School of Earth and Climate Sciences and the Climate Change Institute, presented “Take Up the Challenge: An Actionable and Accountable Racial Justice Program” on June 24 during the American Library Association (ALA) Virtual Annual Meeting.

The program, sponsored by ACRL, drew 1,247 attendees, and offered an overview of the process of making a Racial Justice Challenge subject guide, designed to provide a week-long, self-paced, learning experience.

The guide was initiated by Woods, who asked for such a resource and was invited to take part in its creation. It took four months from initial idea to launch.

The guide was designed to “facilitate a commitment to meaningful change around racist policies and practices,” said Bonnet. Karunakar added that it was for “anyone who was ready to start doing the work…and was designed to help create a starting point that was punctuated with resources, opportunity to build skills, to reflect, and to stay in school.”

She also said it was designed to develop “inclusive critical skills that would build intercultural competence for all…accessible to anyone and everyone regardless of where they were on their own ethnic identity journey.”

Its reach stretched beyond the campus as 3,000 participants took part in the week it was offered, from across the United States, ranging from middle school students to retirees, as well as international participants.

The guide includes four sections for each day’s study: learning, introspection, action, and bonus actions. Materials were largely gathered from existing sources, including podcasts, videos, websites, books, and articles.

While designed as a daily process, the depth of resources provided and the list of possible actions support much longer engagement. In fact, material was simultaneously structured to support a month-long version of the challenge. Reflection is encouraged throughout, with a space to share thoughts built into the challenge.

The guide is posted online for all to use and adapt as wanted.

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