PEWL Program Director and CUNY SPS Lecturer Addresses Structural Racism During Child Support Services Policy Conference

Photo of CUNY SPS PEWL Program Director Dorothea Nixon-Porter at OCSS Conference

“Confronting Structural Racism in the Child Support Program” was the theme of last month’s Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) policy conference, which was held in collaboration with the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS).

 One of the powerhouse speakers during the one-day forum was Dorothea Nixon-Porter (pictured above), program director of the Anti-Bias Trauma Informed (ABTI) initiative and an adjunct lecturer in the CUNY SPS sociology and human relations programs. 

ABTI, which aims to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies that work to help staff recognize and mitigate racism and systemic bias, is one of the 14 partnerships managed by the Office of Professional Education and Workplace Learning, a CUNY SPS unit that provides custom workplace learning programs to help organizations achieve their goals.

The conference explored the theme from a perspective of listening, understanding and taking action; panels included researchers, parents, and other professionals. Nixon-Porter said the goal of her presentation was to set the context for the larger structural racism and equity discussions that participants would have as part of the conference.

Nixon-Porter began her talk by providing basic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) terminology and defining systemic, institutional, and structural racism. She also spoke about the work being done within the child support system and the call to action in creating change by acknowledging, understanding, and bringing awareness to inequities across the many systems in which clients interact. 

"To effect change on any level, we must first look at the ways in which inequity shows up," she said.

Nixon-Porter also highlighted examples of inequity in various systems including education, housing, health care, and the criminal justice system. She encouraged participants to think critically about how inequities show up in the child support system. Overall inequities can take the shape of funding, lack of resources, segregated or homogenous communities, gentrification and eminent domain, disparities in health outcomes and access to care, disproportionate sentencing, racial profiling, poverty, lack of representation, high student to teacher rations, as well as biases and stereotypes related to race, class, and gender.

She ended her presentation with a TedTalk video by Dr. Camara Jones, who uses an allegory about a gardener to explain various types of racism. The allegory highlights the importance of the soil and the impact of the gardener in the health and beauty of the garden.

Nixon-Porter asked the audience to apply the allegory to their work and imagine the child support system as the flower box; the clients and staff as the seeds, and the structures —policies, laws, norms, values, culture, biases, stereotypes—as the sun, air, and water; and lastly themselves as the gardeners.

"What kind of gardener are you?" she asked. "As we think about the child support system, what can we grow? How can we support all seeds and ensure that they have enriched soil? How can we be actively antiracist?"

CUNY SPS has a team of more than 20 staff members at OCSS, led by Program Director Anita Staeheli. The program supports employee learning and performance support goals and develops new training courses and procedures.

"This was clearly a very relevant and timely topic for city staff, community-based organizations, parents, and others involved in the child support system," Staeheli said. "I'm proud that CUNY SPS was able to help OCSS in making this conference happen."

About the CUNY School of Professional Studies

As New York's leading online school since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor's and master's degree options at the City University of New York, and serves as the University's first undergraduate all-transfer college. With 26 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor's degree, progress from an associate's degree, earn a master's degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School's renowned and affordable online programs ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.

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