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One Year Later: George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and Systemic Change

May 27, 2021

We have spent the last year learning how to navigate and respond to the dual crisis of a pandemic and a racial justice reckoning. There is promise in the many ways we have come together to lift our collective voices in solidarity with BIPOC communities in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the signal of justice that the verdict imparts. At the same time, we recognize the critical need for unwavering energy and focus required for meaningful change, especially in light of ongoing racial violence including escalating hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders. As I reflect on the advent of my forthcoming retirement in June, I know that the efforts of the UW Libraries to direct and implement change will continue to expand through our dedicated staff, in partnership with a new leader.

While Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) have been part of the Libraries strategic plan for many years, more specific measures of accountability will be key to sustaining long-term change.  Over the past year, through staff-lead initiatives and leadership, the Libraries have taken more steps to address systemic racism, yet this work is ever-evolving and there is always more to be done. From addressing the lack of diversity in our staff, to ensuring that our spaces are welcoming for all and assessing our own internal culture—these are just a few examples of where change is needed most.

While the following actions are not comprehensive by any means, they represent a commitment and momentum towards change that is important as we help set the stage for new leadership, practices and strategies to live our values in more measurable and impactful ways:

  • The Libraries Cabinet is currently engaged in an intensive Transformational Leadership for Racial Equity Program offered by the Racing To Equity Consulting Group.  The Program is custom-designed based upon where an organization is on the ‘equity continuum’ to raise awareness, deepen understanding and increase capacity to exercise anti-racist/anti-oppression strategies, while navigating the long-term, systemic and adaptive change process pursuing more equitable outcomes for staff and users.
  • The Libraries former EDI committee has been re-imagined into more goal-oriented working groups to identify and recommend best practices across the following priorities:  Staff Growth and Development, Policy Review, Recruitment and Retention, and How we work.
  • The Libraries Decriminalization Working Group was formed in July 2020 to review existing policies and procedures relating to minimizing policing within the Libraries. In addition to providing detailed recommendations, members of this group have also provided Libraries staff with resources and training on de-escalation and disruption management. The Libraries Cabinet is in the process of appointing a steering committee to assess feasibility, implementation and progress of the working group’s recommendations.
  • Libraries staff have been working with tribal leaders on and off campus to develop a UW Libraries land acknowledgment. Once approved, it will be added to all pages of our web site and Cabinet has committed to ongoing staff training including within Libraries orientation process to ensure Libraries employees have a shared understanding and awareness of the history, import and appropriate use of land acknowledgements, and our particular role as Librarians and archivists in preserving traditional knowledge and accurate histories in the context of the indigenous American experience.
  • We are re-engaging stakeholders across campus to complete a pre-pandemic project to publicly acknowledge the context, history and cultural insensitivity of the original murals on the walls of the Smith Room . As Libraries, we collect and preserve historical knowledge of all kinds, and it is our responsibility to combat and correct inaccurate narratives, particularly as it relates to the history of BIPOC communities.
  • University Climate Survey – while the Libraries has much to be proud of from the survey results, there is room for improvement.  The Libraries Cabinet is taking a holistic approach and intends to work with staff to establish a community agreement on the desired climate and what needs to be done to realize it.

These actions are steps in the right direction.  Cultivating change on a systemic level takes time, but I know that the UW Libraries staff are committed to do the work.  I see this across the Libraries-- in teams who have made anti-racism education and reflection part of routine meetings.  I see this in our community-based reading programs, in UW Bothell and Cascadia Libraries and UW Tacoma Libraries commitments, I see this in staff advocacy for more open and equitable resources, and in their successful efforts to change language requirements within our national cataloging systems to be more inclusive and anti-racist. I see this in all the ways our teams are investing considerable time and energy into the initiatives above.

I am confident that the UW Libraries will continue to evolve -- to engage and listen to the needs of our community in new ways and to turn that learning into action that, over time, will lead to lasting change.


Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson

Vice Provost and Dean of University Libraries

University of Washington