By Jodi Hope Michaels, Executive Director, Global Ties Kalamazoo and Committee Member, Global Ties Network Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group
I see so much opportunity for our Network to lead in defining what more diverse, equitable, and inclusive international exchange could look like, and in determining how we could get there. The Global Ties Network is active in all 50 states. By acting collectively, pooling our struggles and strengths from all across and up and down the country, we have a solid base to draw on to build a community of practice and reflect our rich diversity to the world.
One of the great challenges of this work is defining what ‘getting there’ means. For me, I believe that infusing every aspect of our work with a DEI focus, forever, is the goal. There is no ‘there,’ but rather an ongoing commitment to do better and be better at sharing the United States of America with the world authentically. Part of this entails working to transform our own organizations from the inside as we grapple with our continuing legacy of white supremacy and racism. How are we governed, who makes decisions, and to whom in our communities are we accountable?
One of the steps we are taking in Kalamazoo is to provide local training for board and staff focused on recognizing and addressing systemic racism so that we can better advance our belief that exchange is for everybody and our mission to enrich local community with global diversity, one relationship at a time. ERACCE – Eliminating Racism & Creating/Celebrating Equity – is helping us along this path.
At times, it may be difficult to look inward at what this country is and has been. It may feel like a constant struggle to center DEI in our work, but it is essential that we break down stereotypes in our own local communities, including here in Kalamazoo, that exchange ‘isn’t for me’ or is ‘elitist.’ Exchange is for everybody, and ensuring that everyone has access to exchange, as a goal, makes our local communities stronger, and makes our world stronger.
When we engage with other people, across difference, around areas of shared interest and struggle (which is what we do in bringing together our exchange visitors and local hosts), we learn so much about ourselves. We develop new ideas and solutions to our own problems, and we realize that the world is a little bit smaller, and more accessible, than we thought it was.
It is my hope that the work of this DEI Working Group, and of our community-based networks all across the country, will lead to deeper understanding across cultures, borders, peoples, politics, and beyond. In recognizing and celebrating our shared humanity, we will be better able to rise to meet the profound global challenges that increasingly impact all of our lives.