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Where Do We Go From Here? An Interview With Derek Avery, SIOP’s Newly Appointed Diversity and Inclusion Portfolio Officer

Susan D’Mello, HumRRO; Silvia Bonaccio, University of Ottawa; Cheryl Davis, Access School of Real Estate, LLC; Sandra Fisher, Münster University of Applied Sciences; and Brent Lyons, York University

With all the uncertainty that has come with life during the pandemic, one fact that has received increasing attention is the toxic presence of systemic racism and oppression of members of underrepresented groups. There has never been a better time to focus on diversity and inclusion efforts within our profession and the world. In the last year, SIOP has demonstrated a commitment to D&I through the creation of the SIOP Foundation’s Anti-Racism Grant Program, the formation of the brand new ad hoc Disability Inclusion and Accessibility Committee (DIAC), and the appointment of SIOP’s first ever D&I Portfolio Officer, Derek Avery.

As members of DIAC’s steering committee, we wanted to hear about Derek’s vision for the D&I portfolio, and we thought you all would too. Thank you to Derek for agreeing to share his insights and vision through this Q&A. Before we get to the interview, we simply would not be doing our jobs as ambassadors for DIAC if we did not include a shameless plug of our recent activities in this article. We have been busy ramping up our work as a new committee over the past months. We were delighted by the many people who expressed an interest in joining DIAC and had a very fruitful virtual coffee hour during the conference in June to discuss ideas for making SIOP more accessible and inclusive. This year, we are working toward creating social media platforms to encourage collaboration and to publicize disability workplace research, creating a disability research award for conference submissions, developing accessibility guidelines for SIOP events, and planning events and sessions for next year’s conference. We want to thank the many past and current members of WIN, LGBT, CEMA, and International Affairs who provided advice and insights that helped us get started.

But enough about us. Without further ado, please enjoy our interview with Dr. Derek Avery.

Q. How did you get involved in the D&I space? 

A. My family has a history of social justice activism, so I became interested in continuing that legacy at an early age. My formal involvement in this space began as a 1st-year doctoral student working on an affirmative action project with Dr. David Kravitz.

Q. What are your D&I-related goals for SIOP? 

A. I want to see us become much more intentional and strategic about diversity and inclusion. This starts with doing our housekeeping: getting a firmer sense of the current state of diversity and inclusion within our Society. From there, I’d like to see greater alignment along the shared interests of the committees under the D&I portfolio. Advocating for underrepresented people is never easy, but there is certainly greater strength in numbers. I also want to help the committees amplify their internally and externally facing efforts.

Q. What do you see as the key opportunities and challenges for DIAC in particular? 

A. I think the first challenge is similar to that of other committees in the portfolio: understanding the breadth of your constituents. Just as we don’t know the precise percentage of SIOP members who are Hispanic, we also don’t know how many have disabilities or what those disabilities might be. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to effectively advocate on their behalf and attempt to include them fully by providing necessary accommodations where appropriate.

Q. How can the committees in the diversity portfolio engage in their work with a view toward intersectionality? How do you plan to support interactions among these committees as they work toward shared goals? 

A. In the past, much of the work by these committees has been independent, which makes sense given that they were formed independently to serve different agendas. With that said, however, it is clear that there are commonalities in the experiences of the members whose interests these committees represent. As I review each committee’s goals with their leaders, I plan to identify the areas of convergence between their goals and tactics with those of other committees. I realize there is a balance to be maintained between (a) allowing the committees to serve as psychologically safe spaces of critical mass for in-group members and (b) uniting to form a broader coalition that amplifies the collective voices of multiple underrepresented groups within SIOP.

Q. Do you see any other diversity groups or issues that are unrepresented (or underrepresented) in the current committee structure? How can those issues be addressed? 

A. I think this is a fluid concern. As we continue to grow and evolve, relative representation may change, and the salience of identities may shift as well. For instance, ethnicity was much more salient for most White Americans in the past than it is today. I think we have to realize that diversity dynamics are not static and must continually be reassessed.

Q. How have recent events, like Black Lives Matter and the COVID-19 pandemic, changed how we should be considering D&I initiatives? 

A. They’ve changed everything and nothing simultaneously. What I mean is that they haven’t changed the situation, but they have amplified awareness of the situation. Many people have claimed that their social justice inactivity was a function of not knowing the extent of the problems. The pandemic and other events have effectively blown the cover of anyone who would continue to use ignorance as an excuse for inaction. In short, I think these recent events have made it clearer to everyone why D&I initiatives are important if ideals of equal opportunity are to become more of a reality. Now, the key is for us to be strategic in coordinating and channeling all of this newfound attention, energy, and goodwill to help create lasting change.

We wish to thank Dr. Derek Avery for these insightful and energizing comments. Members of the DIAC Committee look forward to working with Derek and with the members of the other committees that fall within the D&I portfolio—namely WIN, LGBT, CEMA, and International Affairs—to serve the SIOP membership.

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