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DEI Success Stories: LWV of Janesville (WI)

Mary Buelow is the Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of the LWV of Janesville in Wisconsin. She shared with us how her League has worked to educate its members and leadership on race-related issues in order to make their DEI work within the community more impactful.

ACTION: Supplement the DEI work your League does in your community with internal initiatives focusing on education and personal development.

Janesville League members began their DEI efforts with a local study on race issues and the criminal justice system and after conducting research and interviewing community members they realized that they had a lot more to learn. They also realized that as an organization with an all-white membership, they didn’t have credibility on this topic in Janesville’s small but growing community of people of color.

The League refocused their efforts on educating themselves through a series of discussion events, all of which were open to the community. They read books like “Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race” by Debby Irving, which chronicles the author’s struggle with her own internalized racism as a white woman, and “In the Country We Love” by Diane Guerrero, a memoir in which the author, an actress, describes her Colombian parents’ deportation when she was a teenager. They also watched films like PBS’s “Slavery by Another Name” and a mini-series called “Race: The Power of an Illusion.”

In addition to hosting discussions within their community, they have been sharing articles and resources through their branch newsletters, including book reviews written by League members on books members can use to educate themselves and others. They have encouraged members to actively participate in conversations about race hosted by other community organizations, like the Diversity Action Team and local churches, which has in turn allowed members to bring additional information and resources back to the League.

As they have continued their education and awareness efforts, they have become increasingly mindful about incorporating DEI into all of their activities, from their annual fundraisers – where the most recent speakers have focused on Latina activism and voting rights of marginalized people – to their candidate forums – where they regularly ask questions about DEI principles. By shifting focus to the ways in which they could better inform themselves of racial issues within the United States and Wisconsin, in particular, they were able to institute many successful DEI activities within their community.

RECOMMENDATION: To make your League more welcoming, supportive, and effective, create a space in which members are not only encouraged, but expected, to challenge and educate one another.

Other books that LWV of Janesville recommends:

  • White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan Williams
  • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
  • The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die by Keith Payne
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball
  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond
  • Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein