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The IFSA You Belong Here Initiative

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July 1, 2020

Today, Heather Barclay Hamir, Ph.D., IFSA President and CEO, sent the message below to all IFSA employees. We felt it was so important to share it, in its entirety, with you.

Dear IFSA Team,

Over the past weeks since I last wrote, I have been thinking deeply about how IFSA will act to be the change we want to see in the world. I write to you on Juneteenth, an important holiday of celebration and reflection commemorating the abolishment of slavery 155 years ago. After more than a century, the Black Lives Matters movement advocates for social justice while violence against the Black community continues unabated. The emotional overload of hope and despair are exhausting for our Black colleagues and students, who carry the weight of systemic oppression and racism for life, not for the life of a movement. Our words of support are not enough; we must also act and hold ourselves accountable for those actions.

Candid, thoughtful feedback from staff and education abroad colleagues helped to surface key areas for action, and I am deeply grateful for those conversations. They were also a reminder that our commitment to Inclusive Excellence requires us first to focus inward on the organization and the role we each play within it. You have heard me say many times that IFSA’s strength is its people. Because of this, I know that we are strong enough to grapple with the reality that a community of people who have good intentions is not the same as a community that is free of bias or structures that perpetuate inequities. I will be the first among us to admit that I will always be on this journey to unpack my own biases, to remain alert to the unearned power and privilege my identity as a White U.S. American gives me. The past weeks have humbled me as I reflect on the progress I have made in that regard and the vast work that remains.

To accelerate our evolution as an organization that embodies Inclusive Excellence, we are launching the You Belong Here Initiative beginning later this month. This initiative will focus on four key areas for the coming year, some of which you will see embedded in our annual goals:

  • We will elevate our organizational practice by forming a working group of staff and Board members to recommend critical improvements that promote equity and inclusion within our organization.
  • We commit to increasing the diversity and representation of our staff when the pandemic allows us to rehire. As part of this commitment, we will seek to widen and expand access to careers in international education.
  • We will solicit suggestions and volunteers to elevate conversations and learning within IFSA on critical topics related to power, privilege, and the experience of marginalized groups.
  • We will amplify our focus on the student experience, integrating practices and approaches that promote inclusivity, equity, and a sense of belonging within our classes and programs.

Becoming the IFSA we want to be will require more from all of us. As a learning organization and a community of passionate educators, we are ready for this challenge. We are on this journey together, and I am grateful to walk beside each of you. Thank you for the work you’ve done to get us here and the work you will do to take us forward. I will be in touch in the coming weeks with more information.

Kind regards,

Heather Barclay Hamir, Ph.D.
IFSA President & CEO