REAL Talks Episode 3 - Managing Tensions in the Coalition DEI Journey: Part 2 of Our Conversation with Double Up HeartlandAuthor: Kolia Souza, Andrea Weiss, and Lindsay Mensch
During the last episode of REAL Talks, we introduced Double Up Heartland. They've put together a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committee, and we've been talking with three individuals from that committee who represent one third of the coalition's member organizations.
As we'll hear more about in this episode, the process revealed differences between their organizations that had never come out before in five years of collaborating. On top of organizational differences, there are limitations of working within what is expected of them as they make Double Up Food Bucks run in their communities and different understandings of how engaging in DEI work directly relates to food security.
The Double Up Heartland coalition includes the following partners:
- Cultivate Kansas City
- Mid-America Regional Council
- Kansas State Research & Extension
- University of Missouri Extension
- West Central Community Action Agency
- University of Kansas Medical Center
To learn more about Double Up Heartland, visit their website at www.doubleupheartland.org.
Episode 3 Transcript
Kolia Souza: Welcome to episode three of REAL Talks, Reaching for Equity in All Lives. I'm Kolia Souza, Food System Equity and Advocacy Specialist with Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.
Andrea Weiss: And my name is Andrea Weiss. I'm Communications Director at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.
Kolia Souza: And we're your hosts for this podcast. During our last episode, we introduced Double Up Heartland, a coalition of six partner organizations implementing Double Up Food Bucks, a nutrition incentive program at grocery stores, farmers markets, farm stands and mobile markets in Kansas and Missouri. They've put together a diversity, equity and inclusion - or DEI - committee. And we've been talking with three individuals from that committee who represent one third of the coalition's member organizations.
Lauren Schaumburg: Hi there. My name is Lauren Schaumberg. I am a public health planner for the Mid-America Regional Council. I also coordinate with the Double Up Food Bucks grocery store locations and help with project management.
Lana Dominguez: My name is Lana Dominguez. I'm the food access program manager working at Cultivate Kansas City. I work alongside my colleague Eli to coordinate the Double Up Food Bucks program at Kansas City farmers markets and farm stands.
Donna Martin: I'm Donna Martin. I am the project director for the Double Up Food Bucks Heartland program. I work at MARC, Mid-America Regional Council, which is the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Kansas City metropolitan region. And my official-official title at MARC is senior public health planner.
Kolia Souza: Andrea, I think it's really intriguing the process that Double Up Heartland started outlining for us in the last episode. It's being shaped by everyone who is participating in the process as it's unfolding. So, we got to start somewhere. We've got to have some kind of idea to start off with, something to put on the table or so to speak. But then everyone else starts rearranging that table and it becomes more participatory. Though, we have influence over how inclusive to make that process. And at that point you're actually practicing diversity, equity and inclusion as you're trying to figure it out. It's kind of this action learning.
Andrea Weiss: And this action learning can come with big tensions. As we'll hear more about in this episode, the process revealed differences between their organizations that had never come out before in five years of collaborating. And on top of organizational differences, there are limitations of working within what is expected of them as they make Double Up Food Bucks run in their communities and different understandings of how engaging in DEI work directly relates to food security.
Kolia Souza: You know, you've spoken to a couple of these challenges throughout our conversation. What other challenges have you faced and what have you been learning?
Lana Dominguez: I think for those of us that really care about this work, it's emotionally intense at times. Because we, being nonprofit people that are driven by passion in our lives, we already have that zest for wanting to do the right thing and working at bringing social justice more into the world. And so, the tension that arises from that, I think, is that professional settings, typically, the culture doesn't allow much emotional vulnerability. And so, when you're doing work that is really emotionally overwhelming at times, it can be really difficult to navigate that. And I think that's especially the case because we all do work for different organizations. So, we're not colleagues who see each other every single day. So, we don't know each other on a day-to-day basis in the office on a personal level. And I think that is really difficult.
And then the other layer to that, especially is if you're working on a DEI committee and you and your identities are personally affected by the work that's getting done, let me tell you, finding a balance between not burning out and also staying helpful is difficult for myself, even as someone who navigates an interesting intersectional space.
And so, I have come to learn that the best thing that I can do is, actually came from another committee member, was reading everything first in a good faith way. So, when you hear something that maybe tugs at your heartstrings, or maybe you feel it in your gut, like, "Okay, let's just reflect on this from a good faith that this person meant it in the best way possible first." I think if you've shared some of the similar experiences that I have, we tend to have a pretty strong defense system to protect ourselves from things that people say that are just not okay. And that is something I've really seen over the last, I guess, how many months we've been working on this and growing to letting my guards down and being more open and trying to get to know one another on a personal level. Which I think that helps build trust among one another, to be more emotionally vulnerable in this space.
Kolia Souza: You captured so well, Lana, the individual experience of engaging in this exploration of diversity, equity and inclusion within a group and how in turn that can impact the group experience. What about the system level challenge of DEI, the coalition addresses, especially within the context of the nutrition incentive program, what are some of the tensions or limitations you've run into?
Lauren Schaumburg: Figuring out things, what does it mean to be anti-racist for Double Up Food Bucks, hat is a very structured program. There's not a lot of things that we can do. So, let's say we reach out to community members, and they have suggestions about how to make the program more equitable. Those suggestions may be things that we can't do anything about, because we have very, very specific goals and limitations for our program. So that's definitely something that's been a challenge, in defining what our goals are as a committee, because there are limitations to the program that we're working on together, but not all of us have those same limitations in our own organizations or in our own lives. So, there are some tensions that arise around that.
And I think even building further on that, because of our limited scope programmatically, we do get sometimes this resistance to talking specifically about race in the committee. And I would say even more so in the broader coalition of partners. That it's something that maybe isn't relevant to our program or something that we can’t address – we can’t address racism with our program. So, there's some tension there. And I think it is the feeling of most members of the committee that the underlying issues that our program is aiming to address, that we cannot pull race out of that conversation. And so, figuring out ways to educate the coalition about why it's important that we have this understanding of systemic racism in society and how that directly contributes to food insecurity and many of the communities that we're serving.
Kolia Souza: Donna, anything else you want to add to this part of the conversation?
Donna Martin: I think we absolutely have to address racism as part of our conversation. However, I think this is one of the tensions. This is where we have had some disagreement, we don't agree yet about the amount of focus that is put on racism. I feel like there are some members who that is the main issue, if not the only issue to address, versus some of our other members who might work with communities that are much, much less diverse. Maybe they see those communities dealing with other populations that are struggling in other ways, that have barriers in other ways. So that is a tension, that is an area where we might not have agreement yet.
Kolia Souza: I want to ask you, because you and I, Donna, have actually talked about this before the breadth of, and the scope of diversity, equity and inclusion. What are some of these other facets of DEI we're talking about
Donna Martin: There's such a huge layering here that I feel like we can't ignore some of those different groups that also are experiencing barriers. The rural, urban divide. I think there's actually a lot in common between our urban areas that are a lot more diverse in terms of race, and some of the rural areas that are very limited in their diversity in terms of race. But there's a lot in common in terms more of economic, income-related type issues and possibly even things like transportation or other types of access issues. So, I think we need to look for where things are very specific to whether it's race, whether it's age, whether it's sexuality. Any of those things that might be a barrier, but also, is it just a barrier for that particular group, or do they actually share that barrier with others that might not be in their group?
Kolia Souza: So that starts to get at a little bit of what Lana was talking about earlier, the intersectionality of identity and then experience. And even how that full circle has influence on access, specifically in our food system world. So, difficult conversations have their way of revealing a lot about where we're at in the process at so many levels and can really be an opportunity for growing our edges. So how has doing this work changed relationships among your coalition members, with the people you serve, or with partners at other organizations?
Lauren Schaumburg: So, I think when we started this work, as we've mentioned several times in this interview, that the early days definitely brought up some tension in the group. And I think it really exposed our difference in focus between organizations. And just for context, Double Up Food Bucks has been operating as a collaborative in our region for about five years. So, we have history together. We have worked together for a long time, and I think this is the first time, at least in my experience, that I have been able to have any vulnerable conversations within the collaborative.
And I think that is a sign that maybe the culture and the way that we communicate with one another is changing, and I like that. So, I would say that's something really positive that's changed about the way that we relate to one another. I also think we've formed better personal relationships with one another across organizations and have gotten to know each other better, which has felt really, I guess, grounding in the work. Feeling that we're doing this work together, we identify that this work is important, and we want to see it move forward, we want to see it be better together. And I think that's really brought some new energy to the group.
Kolia Souza: A lot of lessons learned from starting the DEI process somewhere, to figure out where people are in terms of their own personal journeys and likely within their organizations.
Andrea Weiss: The tensions that Lana, Lauren and Donna name are very real and very important and are similar to what a lot of us navigate, I think. Hearing this conversation is validating because I think we often feel like we're doing something wrong when we hit these points where things get uncomfortable.
Kolia Souza: And therein lies a big challenge to creating a culture that celebrates and practices diversity, equity and inclusion. The processing, and the interactions are happening at multiple levels, and the conversation itself is doing the same thing. This is the mess in the middle where ambiguity reigns supreme, emotions can run high, and things get lost in translation. But the sense making comes in finding the small conversation embedded within the big conversation. And that's where we start finding the practical steps for developing a collective identity, while preserving and asserting our individual identities. Personally, I think of this as a beautiful chaos.
Andrea Weiss: I like that, beautiful chaos. It's another facet of this DEI work that challenges the structures that we work within. As professionals doing program delivery, we have expectations and guidelines that we're accountable to. This also makes me think of the wisdom that Lana shared from one of her colleagues about taking things in the best possible light first. I know I'm going to be holding onto that idea. It's easy to start thinking the worst when things start getting ambiguous or uncertain. But as we'll hear next time in our final episode with this group, there are already successes emerging from their process.
Kolia Souza: If you want to find out more about Double Up Heartland, visit their website at doubleupheartland.org. And to dive deeper into this work, you can check out diversity, equity and inclusion resources like the Food, Justice Equity, Diversity and Inclusion webinar series provided on the nutrition incentive hub website at nutritionincentivehub.org.
Andrea Weiss: You can find all REAL Talks episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. Please share this podcast and check out our other episodes. REAL Talks is a podcast created by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. The series is hosted by Kolia Souza and Andrea Weiss, and produced by Lindsay Mensch and Andrea Weiss. The podcast is supported by the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, grant number 20197003030415, project accession number 1020863 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
REAL Talks is a podcast created by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. The series is hosted by Kolia Souza and Andrea Weiss, and produced by Lindsay Mensch and Andrea Weiss. The podcast is supported by the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, grant number 20197003030415, project accession number 1020863 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.