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Being at the table

Let me quote from Bora over at A Blog Around The Clock:

Being a white man, I took some things for granted that I shouldn't. Reading feminist blogs taught me some things. As Pat said in a comment: "I thought his was a good post but that, unlike you, he didn't understand that when a group hasn't been at the table, sometimes it takes more than an invitation to get them there." Exactly - an open invitation is not perceived as an open invitation by groups that historically were not invited. Just issuing an invitation is not enough. Women, non-Whites (in academia: undergraduates) and other minority groups have seen many invitations that were really by and for white men. When we say 'open invitation' we mean it, today, but it was not always like this and the people in groups that remember this will not conclude that they are really welcome. Even when the invitation is very specific, as in job ads that state "women and minorities are encouraged to apply", this not usually seen as a true invitation but as ass-covering legalese language. Thus, if you really want to see diversity, you have to make an effort to demonstrate that you Really mean it - you talk to the representatives of those communities directly and issue direct invitations, not just circular letters.

I love what he wrote (and, of course, appreciated his quoting me). I said in a comment on the post, this is NOT just about women, this is about any group who has been marginalized. I recently sent the following to a funder who was commenting on the difficulty in getting reviewers with experience in Native American issues:

What I've found from working with Tribal Colleges is that just sending an invitation, or in my case suggesting they volunteer or let me recommend them, doesn't work for a variety of reasons including: work load (you can not believe how many courses these folks teach a semester), difficulty of travel (let's just say tribal colleges aren't centrally located), distrust, folks' ideas of where they fit in the existing status levels, those high in the existing status levels ideas of members of marginalized groups and just not knowing the process.

So let's see if we can get some discussion going on strategies to have more diverse groups of folks "at the table". I tend to start with people I know, asking them personally by phone (if not in person), finding out their concerns, pleading and bribing with cookies. It works but it has a tragic flaw- I'm limited to the people I know. What do you do?