For the past two years, I have done extensive work on diversity and inclusion within the field of conservation, both internally and in action. I keep sensing extensive resistance to talking about power, privilege, and diversity. I also see and experience performative efforts (if you don’t know what that means, please look it up). I keep thinking of ways I can present inclusion topics that will result in deep reflection and new awareness about power and privilege and how it shows up in the field. Earlier this year, I developed and tested a workshop on social location and conservation. This blog is an overview of the workshop and what I learned from an amazing group of colleagues in the field.
What is social location and why is it important?
“An individual’s social location is defined as the combination of factors including gender, race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, and geographic location.” Some also think of it as intersectionality – how our different identities affect how we see and are seen.
I like to use Sylvia Duckworth’s Wheel of Power and Privilege to discuss the topic of social location. When more of our identities are located inside the “power circle” we may be unaware of or possibly never experienced powerlessness (isms, harassment, marginalization, microaggressions, etc.).
How did I begin to incorporate social location into my work?
I have access to diversity and inclusion challenges in the fields of therapy and counseling through my work at Adler Graduate School. I attended a workshop by Dr. Victoria McNeil Young where I was introduced to how power and privilege must be considered in a counselor and client relationship. That made me think the same is true anytime I meet someone outdoors as a mentor, outdoor education instructor, or outdoor program director. If we are not aware of our different experiences and lenses to the activity, we might unintentionally harm people. Knowing our social location relative to our mentees, participants and others might not prevent harm completely, but I believe our approaches will be more intentional.
Another moment that made me think about developing this series was during a Power of Inclusion session where participants realized that their division was a marginalized one within the agency. That made me think about what other factors within the existing conservation structures might be on spectrums of power and privilege. I developed a long list and my test group provided feedback, insight, and experiences to help me finalize the tool I will use for future workshops.
Customizing a model for conservation
Dr. McNeil-Young started her workshop on Multicultural Mistakes: Racial Trauma and Healing by noting her social location and acknowledging some of her limited lenses. By acknowledging her lenses to the world upfront, it felt like permission to challenge and/or take things with a grain of salt based on my own lens to the world. There was a sense of humility from the start and that felt safe. I dream of conversations and workplaces where more people are safe to show up as they are while acknowledging our limited lenses.
The conservation social location mapping exercise I created goes beyond current social location models by including aspects of the field such as organization, division/department within the organization, authority level, title/role, hunting/fishing participation status, wildlife value orientation, education, outdoor recreation participation and more. The conversation includes the marginalization of animal species to further make the point that position and power show up everywhere in the work. Once again, the more power, the increased responsibility to share with those who don’t if we want increased diversity, inclusion, and relevancy.
What is the goal?
What I want more than anything is for people to become more comfortable with the concepts of power and privilege. I want them to become aware of how our social location influences the way we look at and think about our work, as well as how others might see us. In the end, I want those with the most power to realize it is their responsibility and obligation to be the most curious about the experiences of the more marginalized.
As one of my participants stated, once I am aware, “I can’t get those other voices out of my head.” I want people to be present to the people they serve that do not come from similar social locations. I want relevancy to become something that truly opens to the voices of those not in or barely in the field. And I want those from the most marginalized groups to be welcomed for the broader lenses they represent.
What did I learn from the pilot workshop?
1. Group approaches to the conservation social location map are highly subjective.
My favorite challenge was from a participant who suggested the map I had created was from my lens only and offered additional advice. I was so appreciative of the comment. As a result, our group agreed that a new map should be created for each organization where this workshop is offered. We also talked about leaving a wedge or two within the circle blank, so people could enter categories that I may have completely missed.
2. Creating a conservation-focused map helped people expand their awareness of power and privilege in the bigger system.
I most appreciated one of my test participants saying that, because of this series, he won’t ever be able to get “the other voices out of his head.” I interpreted that as him being so much more keenly aware of how his power and position affect how he works, that it might cause some extended discomfort. Getting comfortable with discomfort is what the field needs more of (especially those in power positions, like me).
Through the process, other positions that I had not considered were parental status, the status of the family during upbringing, years of service, political affiliations, and others. Each person is likely to have an aspect of conservation location that makes them most proud, and which causes the most pain.
3. We must be mindful of how we invite marginalized voices into the room.
I use anonymous polls through menti.com to get information on aspects of social location. I encourage those from more marginalized communities to speak first, when possible. However, I must be careful not to name someone I know who comes from a marginalized position if I haven’t first asked permission.
For some, it was helpful to remain off camera when talking about their marginalized experience. I was reminded that as someone from a general power position, which wasn’t something I had considered. I now more fully embrace those choosing to go off camera due to their social location. I’m certain I’ll make mistakes here and I will apologize and work harder to meet those needs.
4. The more marginalized, the less likely they will be retained, in work or participation in the outdoor activities, we promote.
I already knew this to be true through my work in Minnesota’s Chapter of The Wildlife Society’s diversity and inclusion committee and in talking to my more marginalized colleagues. If I feel exhausted in this work, their level of exhaustion is multifold. The point here is that if the field can be relevant to the most marginalized among us, then we can likely meet the needs of those from partially marginalized groups.
5. Perhaps those in semi-marginalized identities (the middle ring) might be the people most needed to build bridges between the most powerful and the least.
Specifically, this idea came up with talking about wildlife value orientation from a study called America’s Wildlife Values: The Social Context of Wildlife Management in the U.S. Many of my test participants fell in the pluralist category. Pluralists “score high on both mutualism and domination scales; i.e., different situations or contexts result in this group emphasizing one orientation over the other.” Some felt because of this orientation they could relate more closely to the other orientations. In fact, some expressed that over time, their value orientation has changed and that could help in reaching those in the distanced orientation “Distanced score” low on both mutualism and domination scales; i.e., they exhibit low levels of thought about and interest in wildlife.”
6. The fear of “alienating the base” (traditional hunters and fisher people, primarily white and male) is enormous.
This validated what I already felt when I worked inside the archery industry. I remember a meeting where we talked about an archery participation study where we learned many more people were interested in archery than bowhunting. And yet, the strategies for moving the organization forward most heavily focused on bowhunting.
I have heard and experienced retaliation for saying no to traditional thinking, so I get it. I have recently heard from professionals who are saying the situation regarding diversity and inclusion is getting worse. I am hopeful this workshop offers a way to open this conversation and explore what is preventing us from welcoming all to the field.
7. This is about sharing power and widening our lenses, not flipping power.
One of my test participants asked a great question about whether the final goal was to flip the circles and give the more marginalized the power. My response was this was more about centering the voices of the marginalized. That means those with the most power have the most limited lenses to the world. If we are to be relevant, those of us with power need to step back and be extremely curious. We need to ask questions and drop our own assumptions about how people want to arrive in conservation.
The above seven points are my early learnings from this workshop series. There were more that I will likely note during future offerings.
The workshop will be offered in 2, 3-hour sessions with at least one week in between for reflection. The first session will cover social location in general. We will also use the session to build the conservation social location map. We will introduce the Wheel of Power/Privilege. We will discuss how this topic can be extended to species. Finally, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to reflect on what these learnings mean for relevancy.
Session two will start with reflection time regarding topics from session one. A final group map will be presented, evaluated, and modified as needed. We will share how our power positions affect how we see and are seen. We will introduce cultural humility and discuss, again, what this all means for relevancy.