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Letter from SE™ International Chief of Staff, Sonja Cole – April 4, 2022

by | Apr 4, 2022 | POINT OF VIEW

Dear Global SE Community,  

Last week we released a statement regarding transphobia and gender justice, acknowledging that issues around transphobia are a part of our history and also a part of our present. In this statement we also made a commitment to do better. We are doing better, and we still have a long way to go.  

I have been working for this organization for almost nine years now. When I first started here, diversity, equity and inclusion weren't topics that I often heard discussed. Today it is something that we reflect on and work on daily. I am seeing people pushing through discomfort to engage in brave conversation and learning. I have seen our staff, board, and faculty diversify and grow to be more reflective of the expanding SE community. We are constantly working to improve safety and accessibility for students, and are asking ourselves who is not represented at this table and how do we make sure they’re considered in conversations and decisions? I have also seen people hurt. I have seen us fail or fall short. What I am seeing now, though, is that those hurts aren’t being swept under the rug, and when we have failed, we’re not giving up.  

I wanted to share some of the work that we’ve been doing, as well as where we need to intensify our efforts in order to live up to our values. 

In 2020, we established a committee of board, staff, faculty, and community members to assist and advise SEI in developing a workplace and organizational culture that values and fosters diversity of identity, experience and perspective. This committee is supporting the scholarship process, developing policies around our commitment to inclusivity, and bringing an equity lens to a variety of projects and programs. 

We established a Black, Indigenous, People of Color Scholarship and the first award letters are going out this week, with more going out next week.  

We developed an anti-oppression webinar series that we have been self-funding and offering for free to our community to increase conversation and learning around important issues. 

Our January 2022 Faculty Forum included a focus on systemic and intergenerational trauma and its roots in various forms of oppression. The curriculum committee is now working on updating the SE curriculum to include these topics, and we expect to publish updates this summer. 

We have been hosting global town halls every few months since June 2020 to bring community voices into our work, and have welcomed public commentary and hard questions, especially related to our work to be more inclusive and equitable as an organization. We have had some public failures in these town halls that were good learning opportunities for us individually and as an organization.  

We’ve realized we need to add more trainings for staff, faculty, and board, and have clear and easy ways for our community to share feedback and file grievances. We want to improve our understanding and teaching about collective trauma. We will continue to work to be worthy of your trust and expand our container for healing. 

We know there is a lot of charge around topics of equity and inclusion—for good reason. There is a lot of hurt in our community coming from all angles. There is hurt from not being seen, heard, or represented; there is hurt from being judged or misunderstood; there is hurt from discrimination, exclusion, and systemic harm. There’s also so much potential for healing and deep aspirations for learning, growth, and for all people to be able to express themselves in their full identities. 

As I have been on my own journey of learning, I have experienced many fears about getting things wrong and I have also found that something I believe strongly one day may be very different the next. One thing that I value greatly about our community is the different viewpoints that challenge my thinking on a daily basis. The willingness of this community to share perspectives with candor has helped me grow to be a better version of myself.  

This is a very different organization than it was when I started here nine years ago. In so many ways we’ve changed and grown and improved, and that change has sometimes been messy and really hard, and other times it’s been beautiful and inspiring. Still other times, we haven’t been as successful in that growth and improvement, and that weighs heavy on my heart. It is my hope for this organization that we continue to move forward with intention and action to support people of all genders, abilities, races, classes, religions and other identities. I hope that we continue to repair from past harm done. That we continue to hold ourselves accountable for mistakes that will inevitably be made in the future. And that we hold true to our mission of supporting trauma resolution and resilience through culturally responsive professional training, research, education and outreach in diverse global communities. 

Thank you for your accountability and solidarity. Your thoughts on this or other issues are always welcome and encouraged at listening@traumahealing.org. 

With gratitude, 

Sony Cole