President’s Report: Hope in These Troubled Times

Leigh A. Leslie, Ph.D. NCFR President
/ Fall 2020 NCFR Report

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As I sit in my office in June contemplating where we will be as an organization, a discipline, and a nation in September when you will be reading this, I am sure of very few things. One thing the past several months have taught me is how quickly reality can change and, at the same time, not change. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all living with a dramatic upheaval in our personal, professional, and civic lives like nothing we have ever experienced. At the same time, White Americans are coming face-to-face with the ongoing White supremacy and racial injustice that tragically seems to be marrow in the bones of this nation. So where will we be in three months in grappling with this new reality and this old reality? While I do not know, I have hopes.

When I think of our new reality of living in the time of COVID-19, I hope that in three months we, as a nation, have learned the value of caring for one another and of making small personal sacrifices to keep others safe. I know many of us will be practicing this as never before as we return to our campuses and workplaces, many of us in person. For those of you on campuses, I hope you experience support from students, colleagues, and most importantly, administration as you navigate keeping yourself and your loved ones safe.

I also hope we continue to harness the flexibility and creativity this pandemic has demanded from us. Moving our classes and practices online and discovering new ways to conduct our research has made us stretch and grow, sometimes in ways we did not realize we were capable of (who knew I’d ever be able to move students into online chat rooms when 4 months ago I couldn’t start a Zoom call? I feel like Scotty on Star Trek!). I want to send out a huge thank you to Conference Chair Brad van Eeden-Moorefield, the entire Conference Program Committee, and our amazing NCFR staff for coping with the realities of keeping us safe during the pandemic and switching to a virtual platform (or multiple virtual platforms) for this year’s annual conference. I was amazed at the optimism, determination, and (dare I say it) even enjoyment these folks demonstrated in rising to the challenge to ensure that we all have a professionally stimulating conference in November.

When I think of the old reality of racism, I desperately hope that in three months the national energy to make meaningful structural changes has not stalled. At the organization level, I hope we are heeding the NCFR Board of Directors’ call to action in response to the death of George Floyd both to listen and to act to build an antiracist society. I want to thank the Feminism and Family Studies Section and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Straight Alliance Focus Group for their rapid response to the board’s call and putting out their “Statement in Admonishment of Anti-Black Racism and Call to Action,” which outlined six steps that they, as a section and a focus group, would implement immediately. Between the time of this writing and your reading, I am confident many other sections and focus groups will have begun this important dialogue and development of an action plan. I trust this work will be further elaborated as we come together at the conference in November.

As a board, we are working to develop an organizational action plan based on input from members. To that end, by the time you are reading this, we hope to have had two listening sessions in which NCFR members were invited to join board members in a virtual space to share their ideas about next steps. There will also be an opportunity for listening to occur at the Inclusion and Diversity Committee breakfast during the conference. I certainly invite all who did not join us in the listening sessions, as well as those who did, to join the IDC and board as we listen to both your experiences and your ideas for moving forward in an antiracist way as an organization. My hope is that we come away from these sessions with action steps for our organization and our professional homes, be they universities or community clinics.

In the next 3 months, and in the months and years to come, I also hope that Family Science as a discipline investigates and dismantles the implicit and explicit biases that infiltrate our teaching, research, and practice. For example, although systems theory undergirds much of our discipline, we far too often teach and write about race differences in health, education, income, and relationship dynamics as if they were about differences between groups—instead of, for example, locating the origins of those differences in larger societal processes and structures that advantage some groups at the expense of others. We must ground our empirical questions and explanations, as well as our interventions, in the reality of structural racism and oppression.

Progress on both these realities may be slow, but the work is so important, and I hope that we as a nation, a discipline, and an organization are up to the challenges.

I have written so far about what I hope, but let me end by saying a few things about what I know. I know that as we take on both of these realities, relationships are critical to not just surviving but also thriving. Who among us has not reconnected with old friends during the pandemic? The multiple happy hours or sharing-hour virtual calls with loved ones in our lives, as well as those we have not made contact with in years, speaks to the most basic need we have for human connection in the face of uncertainty. And the inability to hug or touch loved ones we do not live with poignantly reminds us of the precious, sustaining powers of human touch. Relationships are also imperative on so many levels for building an antiracist society. It almost goes without saying that it is impossible to do this work alone. However, to dig down a little deeper, there are at least two ways in which relationships are critical to this work. First, White people must hold one another accountable. We must do the work to educate ourselves and we must call one another out when our words or actions perpetuate a racist ideology. Conversely, we must we willing to listen when someone is trying to help us see our blind spots. Second, we must have authentic interracial relationships. I believe as an organization, we have nurtured many friendships and working partnerships among scholars and practitioners of diverse races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. But I wonder how often those of us who are White have ever sat down and said, “What do I not understand?” I quickly want to point out that it is not minoritized colleagues’ job to educate us. Instead, we must establish the kind of relationships in which this type of honest dialogue is part and parcel of how we connect to one another.

I hold firmly to the belief that members of NCFR are people who believe in the importance of relationship, fairness, and justice. I also recognize that I, and others, have glaring blind spots in our understanding of challenges faced by racial minoritized individuals and families. I sincerely hope that we can move forward to empower one another as we work to flourish during the new reality we are facing due to the pandemic and to overcome—finally—the horrific legacy of racism that plagues us all.