Category: Social Justice

Learn How to Apologize

This post is taken directly from the Anti-Racism Daily Newsletter

As we become more aware and attuned, we are bound to make mistakes – which means in various scenarios we may cause harm or be harmed. Our fear of this can force us to retreat from tough conversations or important moments of learning. But suppose we can equip ourselves with tools for navigating challenging situations. In that case, we can more effectively practice harm reduction if and when it occurs – and feel more confident when engaging in uncomfortable situations. This act may allow us to stay in relationship – not run and flee.

One of these tools is the act of apologizing. And apologizing isn’t embedded in U.S. culture. Generally, people in the U.S. are wary of admitting that they are wrong. A personal admission of guilt can lead to consequences – a loss of respect, friends, and community, and complicated emotions to process individually. A study found that, on average, politicians who apologized were more likely to lose support than gain it afterward, which some use as a rationale for why President Trump doesn’t apologize (NYTimes). Legally, apologies can be weaponized for punishment, which is why lawyers and insurance agents may recommend against it  (The Daily Beast).

This perspective is quite different than how other countries embrace apologies as part of their culture, as explained in Harvard Business Review. And here, it seems our aversion to apologizing is part of our relationship with power. An offender will often choose not to apologize because they “maintain a greater sense of control and often feel better about themselves” (Scientific American). This perceived sense of power may feel like protection against external shame, blame, and consequence.

But it also blocks us from accountability – a critical skill needed when we’re doing this work. Not just when we engage in conversations on a one-on-one basis, but when we envision how we want communities to thrive. We can’t continue to rely on punitive practices when we work to change systems: like re-imagining public safety and collective care. And we can’t keep shaming our leaders for admitting mistakes until we are ultimately left with those too proud to do so.

Luckily, we can practice apologies on our own and bring them into our next conversation. And a wholesome apology is more than just saying, “I’m sorry.” There are many spaces for inspiration you can go to for apologies, including your own spiritual, religious, or cultural backgrounds. I have learned a lot from resources created by Mia Mingus and Brené Brown and recommend their work in full. Here are some important points I’ve learned:

Invest in self-reflection. The apologies we’re focusing on aren’t the compulsive “OMG, I’m SO sorry” ones you might squawk out if you bump into someone on the street. We’re looking for thoughtful and sincere apologies, and those often take some deep self-refection. To complete the following steps, you must be willing to understand your role in what happened. That may include journaling and processing individually, talking with a friend, or learning from books, podcasts, etc. Start here so you can do your best moving forward. Learn more via Mia Mingus.

Note: Reflect on what is yours to own. I think it’s worth including from my perspective as a Black woman born and raised in the U.S. Women, women of color particularly, are often burdened to take responsibility for the wrongdoings around them. I often find myself wanting to apologize for something that was done to me, not by me. I encourage all of us, but particularly those most marginalized, to reflect on whether or not that’s actually our burden to carry, especially if we’re the ones receiving the harm.

Say you’re sorry. Naming that your sorry – without any “ifs, ands, or buts” is critical. Changing, or removing this phrase entirely, is a common way people try to eschew responsibility. Using phrases like “I’m sorry you felt that way” or “I didn’t realize you’re so sensitive” puts the focus on the other person’s feelings, not your actions. Phrases like these can be wielded to manipulate or even gaslight others, too, so you want to avoid that regardless of intention. Instead, stick to the action that you can apologize for, like, “I’m sorry I said what I said last night.” More on this from Brene Brown in conversation with Harriet Lerner.

Acknowledge the impact. We reference intention v. impact often in this newsletter because it’s an essential act of accountability. And that’s no difference when it comes to apologizing. Instead of emphasizing that you “didn’t mean” or “never intended” to do something, name and acknowledge the impact. That can look like “I realize my behavior last night made you upset” or “I now understand that my actions are incredibly condescending. I appreciate how Franchesca Ramsey breaks this down in this video.

Change your behavior. An apology is something we do, not something we say. And we carry it forward by changing our behavior to minimize opportunities for future harm. This action might be something you name in your apology, like “moving forward, I will not talk to you that way again.” It may also be something you commit to learning more about so you can grow, “I’m going to take a course so I can better understand how to engage properly.” But neither you, the recipient or society gain anything until you put it into practice. This might be difficult, and burdensome, and tiring, and overwhelming – yet if you’re going to apologize, you have to be committed to this step. Learn more via Mia Mingus.

Remember that after you apologize, regardless of how well-rehearsed and well-practiced, you have to detach yourself from the outcome. No one owes you their forgiveness, no matter how deeply you may desire it. Respect the recipient’s boundaries and ensure your apology is consensual. And, note that an apology is not a replacement with other forms of accountability, like giving reparations or removing yourself from a position of power. But sometimes, an apology can be an excellent start to transforming our relationships – with ourselves, each other, and society as a whole. And we have to start somewhere.

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples

As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, I want to share the following resources with the campus community. Let’s learn the different ways we can decolonize our institutions and communities.

Why Aren’t There More Native American Restaurants

When you think of North American cuisine, do Indigenous foods come to mind? Chef Sean Sherman serves up an essential history lesson that explains the absence of Native American culinary traditions across the continent.

The Intergenerational Wisdom Woven Into Indigenous Stories

The way we behave politically, socially, economically and ecologically isn’t working, says community organizer and activist Tai Simpson. Sharing the creation myth of her Nez Perce tribe, she advocates for a return to the “old ways” guided by Indigenous wisdom that emphasize balance, community and the importance of intergenerational storytelling in order to protect what’s sacred.

UCO Land Acknowledgement Website
This site contains resources and information to advance your understanding of Native cultures and how we can prevent their erasure.

What is Equity Mindedness?

A primary function of the Office of Inclusive Community is to promote the use of equity-mindedness throughout all facets of higher education and workplace policies, practices, procedures, curriculum, norms, etc. We want all of our faculty and staff to view their work through an equity-mindset in order to advance diversity and inclusion. So what is equity-mindedness? Well, first you need to understand what equity is. The Center for Urban Education provides a great series of illustrations to define equity. The graphics explain equity and inequity based on the student experience, but you can generalize their explanation to the faculty and staff experience as well.

Imagine an equal world in which we attempt to treat all people equally.

Most of us like to think we live in a world where if we treat all people equally, they will have the opportunity to succeed. If we all just work hard, we will have everything we need to succeed.

The problem with that imagining is, the world isn't equal

But the world isn’t equal, because individuals are born into varying sets of circumstances with varying privileges. Person 1 may be born into a family that is middle class, while Person 2 is born into a family that is lower socioeconomic class. Through no doing of their own, Person 1 has built-in privileges that Person 2 does not.

In fact, the world is inherently biased, making it much more difficult for some people to achieve upward mobility because not only were they born into a not ideal circumstances, they were also born into a marginalized or minoritized community.

On top of the varying circumstances and privileges people are born into, this world comes with hierarchy, inherent bias, and systemic oppression. Say Person 2, who was born into a lower socioeconomic class, is also born into a marginalized community… now Person 2 faces additional barriers to success and upward social mobility on top of the difficulties associated with low income.

When we try to make our institutions more diverse without first making them inclusive and accessible, we bring people from specific minoritized communities into a world in which they may not feel a sense of belonging and they may not be equipped to succeed.

As we work to increase diversity in our institutions, we cannot forget to implement equity and inclusion. Our institutions have been built in such a way as to work best for white male populations.  Afterall, that is who originally built the institutions and who the institutions were built for.

What we need to do is reflect on our policies and practices, our systems, values and norms, so we can ensure the equip those individuals from marginalized and minoritized communities to advance and feel a sense of belonging.

An equitable institution will examine resource distribution to ensure those resources are allocated to the communities who have the greatest need. They will provide extra support to those communities have been served least well by existing systems.

Watch the following video to gain an even better understanding of how inequity is built into systems and institutions.

Now that we have a better understanding of equity, let’s go over equity-mindedness. Equity-minded individuals examine unequal outcomes… unequal outcomes in student persistence, student grades, graduation rates, faculty and staff retention, faculty and staff advancement, etc. Equity-minded individuals look at these unequal outcomes to identify patterns based on race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, and other facets of self-identity. For example, an equity-minded person will notice if faculty belonging to a minoritized race/ethnicity are being promoted at a much lower rate than their white colleagues. They will not place blame on the faculty belonging to the minoritized race/ethnicity by attributing their lack of advancement to stereotypical and often false assumptions such as lack of drive or talent. Instead, the equity-minded person will look at the institution’s policies and procedures for faculty promotion to identify specific language or practices that may be causing barriers to the advancement of those faculty members.

 Estela Mara Bensimon, Alicia C. Dowd and Keith Witham explain equity-mindedness best in their article, Five Principles for Enacting Equity by Design.

“Equity-minded individuals are aware of the sociohistorical context of exclusionary practices and racism in higher education and the impact of power asymmetries on opportunities and outcomes, particularly for African Americans and Latinas/os. Equity-minded individuals are:

  • Color-conscious (as opposed to color-blind) in a critical sense. Being color-conscious means noticing and questioning patterns of educational outcomes that reveal unexplainable differences in outcomes for minoritized students (Gillborn 2005); it means viewing inequalities in the context of a history of exclusion, discrimination, and educational apartheid. 
  • Aware that beliefs, expectations, and practices assumed to be neutral can have outcomes that are racially disadvantageous. Racial disadvantage is created when unequal outcomes are attributed to students’ cultural predispositions or when practices are based on stereotypical assumptions about the capacity, aspirations, or motives of minoritized populations (Bensimon 2012). 
  • Willing to assume responsibility for the elimination of inequality. Rather than viewing inequalities as a natural catastrophe (Coates 2015), equity-minded individuals allow for the possibility that inequalities might be created or exacerbated by taken-for-granted practices and policies, inadequate knowledge, a lack of cultural know-how, or the absence of institutional support—all of which can be changed. 
  • Aware that while racism is not always overt, racialized patterns nevertheless permeate policies and practices in higher education institutions. When policies have a disproportionate impact on students of color, they have the effect of maintaining racial hierarchies.”

I challenge us all at the University of Central Oklahoma to really Understand Equity-Mindedness and become equity practitioners. Let’s systematically review our policies, procedures, and curriculum for potential barriers and exclusionary practices that hinder the success of those students, faculty, and staff who belong to minoritized or marginalized communities. Let’s use Equity Tools to remove those barriers and advance inclusive excellence. Let’s constantly examine our assumptions and identify our blind spots. Let’s be lifelong learners who study the social histories of those minoritized and marginalized communities in an effort to increase our understanding and empathy.

Are you with me?

Cristi Moore
Inclusion & Diversity Strategist
Office of Inclusive Community

Resources to Advance Racial and Social Justice

We hope the following resources help support your continued growth and action in addressing racial and social injustice.

Action Resources

Healing Action Toolkit

10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship

Support Black-Owned Businesses in OKC

Creating Equity by Design


Educational Tools

Black Lives Matter & Intercultural Development in Higher Education

National Council of Teacher of English Takes A Stance Against Racism

Antiracist Resources For Your 2020-2021 Teaching

Professional Development Resources about Social Injustice for Faculty and Staff

Center for Urban Education


Articles of Interest

Racism is a public health issue and ‘police brutality must stop; read what medical groups have to say on the topic.


Educational Viewing

  • 13th (Netflix)
  • American Son (Netflix)
  • Crash (Amazon Prime)
  • Dear White People (Netflix)
  • Fruitvale Station (Amazon Prime)
  • I Am Not Your Negro (Apple and Amazon Prime)
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Hulu)
  • Just Mercy (Amazon and Apple)
  • King of the Wilderness (HBO)
  • Rodney King (Netflix)
  • Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (HBO)
  • See You Yesterday (Netflix)
  • The Hate You Give (Cinemax)
  • When They See Us (Netflix)

Educational Listening

  • 1619 (New York Times)
  • About Race
  • Code Switch (NPR)
  • Intersectionality Matters! Hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw
  • Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast
  • Pod For The Cause
  • Pod Save the People (Crooked Media)
  • Seeing White
  • This American Life
  • TED Radio Hour

Educational Reading

  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • Divided Sisters by Midge Wilson and Kathy Russell
  • The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan
  • So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • They Can Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
  • Locking Up Our Own by James Forman
  • Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
  • When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
  • Anti-Racism Daily – Email Newsletter offers an overview on current events from an anti-racist perspective.

Organizations to Follow