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By Hilary Pollan and Carly Hoffman

The Racial Equity Institute (REI) hosts trainings locally and nationally to help communities, organizations, and institutions develop tools to challenge patterns of power and to grow equity. In a student-driven effort led by Planner’s Forum and Plan for All, Carolina Planning invited REI to host a full-day Groundwater presentation in early Fall 2017. The purpose of the training was to build a shared language in the department about the causes and outcomes of racial inequity, and to open a larger conversation about how to promote racial equity both in the department and in the field of planning. Throughout the evidence-based presentation, the REI trainers offered studies that described topics such as white advantage and implicit bias, and illustrated how racial inequities are replicated across systems including education, criminal justice, and health care.

The Groundwater training was particularly relevant for planners, given that many of us do or will go on to work in low income communities and in systems that perpetuate racial disparities. Often our work relies on class distinctions as a proxy for race, but the REI trainers highlighted the particularly important fact that socioeconomic differences do not fully explain racial inequity in our country. The topic of institutional organizing, as distinguished from community organizing, is also useful for planners; the REI trainers defined institutional organizing as working within institutions, either with or as gatekeepers to prevent racially inequitable outcomes in our decisions, policies, and practices. Recognizing the role of planners as gatekeepers, and the role of gatekeepers in maintaining the status quo of power and resources, are among the many useful takeaways from the Groundwater training.

Students, faculty, and staff alike commented that the presentation was transformational in how they understand institutional racism, and has since propelled many students and faculty to engage in further discussion about how this evidence pertains to the department. Collaborative efforts to address issues of racial inequality within the department have begun, including looking into how to establish the REI training as a bi-annual opportunity for the department.

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