By: Alina Borja, MPL
On Tuesday, October 9th, METRANS welcomed Dr. Sara Brown to the Doheny Memorial Library to host the first in a series of METRANS professional development events, titled Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace. Brown started the event by introducing her organization, the USC Shoah Foundation and Institute for Visual History and Education. The Shoah Foundation collects visual histories of genocide survivors across the globe, and works to ensure that everyone can be an agent in their lives to honor survivors and to remember and prevent these kinds of atrocities and injustices in the future.
The event was run as a workshop in which Brown presented material and the participants, a diverse group of included students, faculty, staff, and practitioners from multiple disciplines, many of whom had never attended a METRANS event. The “title of (this) workshop was of interest and I thought this might be helpful for me to learn more about this topic as a manager,” shared attendee Tammie Dedmon-Mason, Associate Director, Office of Admissions and Scholarships, USC Rossier School of Education.
Each concept and testimony was first introduced by Brown, then discussed in small groups before the topic was opened up to a discussion with the larger group.
Brown began by asking that participants consider how we all understand our own identities, how our identities affect the way we see the world and how the world sees us. The theme of identity remained central to the series of video testimonials that Brown shared. The testimonials, a part of the Shoah Foundation's vast visual archive, included clips from three individuals who had survived genocide, war, and hardship. These stories illustrated commonalities across space and time, sparking discussion among participants about humanity, isolation, and hope. Though we are all different, participants shared that they found similar fears about their own identity, and these fears helped them to empathize both with the testimonials and with the person sitting across the table at the workshop.
Brown ended the session by asking participants to think of one specific step each could take to create inclusive spaces at and in our work. This experience will help me in my professional life to “think more holistically about the life experiences that my colleagues may have experienced – either directly or indirectly,” Dedmon-Mason shared. “Marginalized and oppressed groups are typically the groups who are voiceless/powerless. It is important for decision makers to have the narrative of multiple viewpoints.”
While I have long held the belief that diversity and inclusion should be at the forefront of every industry, for me, this workshop highlighted the deep importance of inclusion in transportation. Many marginalized populations are dependent on public transit services, and these communities have historically been excluded from making decisions about the transportation systems that are so vital to their well-being. As a planner, if I ever hope to be an effective facilitator for these voices to affect decision-making in the transportation field, empathy and inclusion will be daily tools of my trade.
Brown emphasized the role we will all play in moving past tolerance toward promoting a real celebration of difference. "Leadership shapes culture," she told us, “but grassroots action can shape culture just as forcefully.” The goals of diversity, inclusion, and justice are vast, but this workshop reminded me that they can be built in decisions that are ultimately small, personal, daily, and persistent.
About the Author:
Alina Borja is earning a Master’s in Urban Planning at the Sol Price School for Public Policy at USC. She interns for the Art Program at LA Metro and is interested in making public spaces safe and welcoming for all people.