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paths toward equity

Over the past few years, there has been a growing awareness about what it means to have an industry like scholarly publishing that is, by one estimate, over 90% white. Publishing professionals are asking important questions, such as, “what types of systems are in place that exclude some and not others?” and “what is it like for a person of color to navigate these white spaces?” At Duke University Press, we founded a grassroots Equity and Inclusion Interest Group three years ago. Twenty-five staff members came together during our first impromptu meeting in 2016. Since that time, our group has hosted numerous equity-themed training sessions, book studies, film showings, and many other conversations designed to help staff work together in making change within our own personal lives, our organization, and our wider industry.

Inspired by that collaborative work, many of us at Duke University Press have become involved in industry-wide projects, such as the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (originally the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force), NASIG’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, and the AUPresses Gender Equity and Cultures of Respect Task Force, as well as working to develop antiracism toolkits for organizations, allies, and people of color through the Triangle Scholarly Communications Institute this fall. Duke University Press was also among the first presses to participate in the Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship program and benefited from the leadership and ideas from the three fellows from that program. To be clear, our press has just as much work to do as other university presses in the area of equity, but we’re thrilled to be among colleagues who have realized the importance of this work within our industry.

We were honored to organize a solicited panel for this year’s AUPresses annual meeting on equity. We wanted our panel to be framed by the experiences of people of color in our industry and also grounded in the sustained and dedicated work of white allies. We immediately thought of the groundbreaking work of Melanie S. Morrison, a Duke University Press author who is founder and executive director of Allies for Change, an organization composed of “a network of anti-oppression educators who share a passion for social justice and a commitment to creating and sustaining life-giving ally relationships and communities.”

Our panel opened with Gisela sharing numerous compelling personal stories she had gathered through focus groups with people of color in publishing, along with qualitative data gathered through a survey. Cathy followed, providing key strategies for shifting the framework of conversations and initiatives from diversity to equity and anti-racism, while Melanie offered both insights and the crucial elements required for lasting transformational change in organizations.

We hope you’ll view the video recording of our panel discussion, now available for viewing here. We also wanted to share recommendations from the people of color who participated in Gisela’s survey, as well as from Melanie, based on her years of experience working with organizations.

Recommendations from people of color in our industry:

  1. Listen to your colleagues of color and do not deny or downplay their experiences with racism.

  2. If there are diversity initiatives, show interest in them (especially if they are led by people of color); if there are no diversity initiatives, be the one to start one (don’t wait for a person of color to do that, or expect a person of color to do it).

  3. Check in with the people of color on your team to ask if there’s anything you can be doing to support them. Create an environment of trust by consistently asking them for feedback around what kind of support they need (because being one of few people of color working in publishing requires emotional support and not just professional support).

  4. Don’t pretend to be color-blind or assume race isn’t always impacting their lives. It’s okay to admit that the same thing impacts people of different racial identities differently.

  5. Think through what is considered “professionalism” at your office and how that ties to white supremacist culture.

  6. When speaking about diversity and the need for more, do not make comments that suggest it would only come at the expense of “higher quality” candidates.

  7. Make sure you listen to people of color and make sure you aren’t holding them to higher standards than other workers.

  8. Make sure you are considering people of color for opportunities that arise.

  9. Make sure people of color are in the room when decisions are being made.

  10. Consider attending bystander intervention trainings (like those offered here and here).

Melanie’s recommendations for white people who strive to be allies in the work of racial equity:

  1. Become conscious of the unearned privileges granted white people.

  2. Interrupt the habits, policies, and practices that protect white privilege.

  3. Work through shame and guilt.

  4. Take action to interrupt racism at the personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels.

  5. Hear the anger and grief that people of color express about racism without judging or policing their feelings.

  6. Move out of social segregation.

  7. Cultivate a spirit of cultural humility.

  8. Develop truth-telling relationships of accountability with people of color and other white people.

  9. Stay on the journey, engaged in the struggle for racial justice, for a lifetime.

We welcome your comments and questions and hope you’ll join the movement toward equity within our industry and beyond.

Selected Racial Equity Training Organizations

Allies for Change

Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training

ERACCE – Eliminating Racism & Creating/Celebrating Equity

Frances Kendall

Hackman Consulting Group

National Coalition Building Institute

People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond

REI – Racial Equity Institute

The Truth & Titus Collective

Visions, Inc

World Trust

About the authors:

Gisela Concepción Fosado was a member of both AUPresses’ Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and AUPresses’ Gender, Equity, and Cultures of Respect Task Force. In 2016, with Cathy Rimer-Surles, she cofounded a grassroots staff group at Duke University Press focusing on equity and inclusion. Gisela is currently working to develop Toolkits for Equity in Scholarly Communication through the Triangle Scholarly Communications Institute. As an editor at Duke University Press, Gisela publishes books across the humanities and social sciences, with a particular interest in books that foreground marginalized perspectives, adopt an intersectional approach, and contribute to our understanding of social movements and inequality.

Cathy Rimer-Surles has been an educator and activist for women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights her whole life but only in the past several years realized the significance of her white identity as a result of in-depth antiracism education with the Racial Equity Institute ( She is active in numerous community-based racial equity organizations led by people of color in the Durham community and along with Gisela, cofounded the Equity and Inclusion Interest Group at Duke University Press. A lawyer/librarian, she serves as the Assistant Director for Contracts and Intellectual Property.

Gisela Concepción Fosado, Cathy Rimer-Surles

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