The Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI) Task Force was created in June 2020 in the wake of the global racial reckoning to focus on increasing racial equity, diversity, and inclusion at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). Since its inception, the group's activities have included data and resource collection, event programming and hosting diversity trainings.
In June 2021, the REDI Task Force issued its final report, which offers a set of concrete recommendations to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion at FSI now and into the future. Through recommendations affecting hiring, research and policy initiatives and curriculum changes, REDI has created a new path forward for FSI.
REDI Task Force Chair Beatriz Magaloni spoke to FSI about the report, the group’s priorities over the next year, and the role faculty, students and staff can play in changing institutional practices.
I am following in the footsteps of Gabrielle Hecht, an FSI Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and professor in the History Department who led the REDI Task Force last year. REDI is FSI’s institutional response to the racial reckoning that we are experiencing in the U.S. and many countries around the world. Prompted by video-recordings of abusive policing that became viral, displaying unjustified and gruesome killings of Black Americans, including the murder of George Floyd, FSI could not remain silent in the face of civil rights abuses, racism, and authoritarian policing that disproportionately affect Black Americans and other people of color.
What motivated me to lead this group was the need to not only acknowledge, but embrace this important reckoning at FSI. As it is clear in the report produced by the REDI Task Force last year and the letter from Gabrielle Hecht when REDI began, attention to systemic racism demands that we place the burden of transforming racial inequalities and discrimination on institutions and our university is no exception. This must begin by reflection and sincere recognition of the many ways in which, within FSI and Stanford University at large, we are reproducing inequalities and practices that are not sufficiently inclusive and might even discriminate against people of color – faculty, students, staff, service workers and custodians. REDI’s 2020-2021 Report reflect these shortcomings. Now we need to take concrete actions in hiring, recruitment of students, curriculum, and more to make the recommendations made in the report a reality.
My research is deeply related to issues of racial inequality, repression and exclusion. For the last ten years, I have been working on police violence in Brazil, with a focus on Rio de Janeiro. Rio's Military Police has killed more than 19,865 people between 2003 and 2019. In 2019 alone, they killed 1,810 people, which amounts to an average of five persons per day. The vast majority of victims are Black and "pardos" (people of mixed race) – these constitute more than 80% of all police killings that are targeted against poor people living in marginalized, irregular urban sprawls (favelas).
I have studied the causes and possible solutions to this violence working in collaboration both with police forces as well as civil society organizations within Rio’s favelas. My research and field experience have put me in the middle of a battle that has deep historical roots, embedded in the country’s history with slavery and resulting racial segregation and exclusion that created a “social contract” where Black Brazilians living in these urban sprawls are considered second class citizens devoid of rights. The infamous phrases in Brazil widely endorsed by the middle class, “Bandido Bom e Mandido Morto” ("a good criminal is a dead criminal") and “Direitos humanos são para humanos” (“human rights are for humans”) reflect a profound dehumanization and the association of Black Brazilians with “criminals” devoid of rights.
Moreover, as in the U.S, behavior toward Afro-Brazilians is guided by attitudes, stereotypes, and implicit biases that are activated involuntarily simply because of skin color. My work has focused on evaluating ways to control police violence and other forms of violence against civilians committed by heavily armed criminal groups. I have also aimed to give voice in my research to the people living in these communities, including how they experience the police as an instrument of oppression and the many ways in which their rights are ignored and violated by state institutions. When police and justice systems fail the poor, my research demonstrates that the poor and people of color often end up living in territories where criminal groups, rather than the state, rule.
My work in Rio de Janeiro has also partnered with transformative civil society organizations, such as Agência de Redes para a Juventude, which works with youth from the most marginalized and violent favelas in Rio and trains them to become leaders of social change. Agência's work is innovative: it consists of reversing the paradigm associated with poor communities as places of need and disorder, by rethinking and presenting them as territories brimming with potential for incubating new solutions and ideas to contemporary social challenges. Agência emphasizes racial pride, economic empowerment, and the belief that social change is achievable through collective participation and individual entrepreneurship.
In one occasion during a conference I organized at Stanford, we brought some of these youth from Rio’s favela’s to FSI to talk about their experiences and present their social innovation projects. Similarly, I and my collaborator, Vanessa Melo, partnered with another civil society organization, Observatório de Favelas, to conduct a large survey with favela residents. We brought them together to present the results, discussing their everyday lives under the rule of oppressive police forces and in very insecure environments where, for example, schools need to be often closed due to constant shootouts. The dialogue and results of our research about “the voices from the periphery” was amply covered by newspapers in Brazil. Our hope was that with this type of work we could bring more awareness and understanding of the limited meaning of citizenship in these territories and how much needs to be changed to achieve equality.
My work in Mexico also intersects with racial equity and diversity. I have numerous projects that explore innovative governance solutions to problems of exclusion, poverty and violence by indigenous communities throughout the country. Similar to Brazil, in Mexico I have found that indigenous peoples – who have suffered ancestral discrimination, exploitation, and exclusion since the conquest and colonization by Spain – have found creative solutions to their problems that rely on their strong social capital, capacity to organize collective action, and a participatory decision-making where the community assembly is the ultimate authority. I have conducted extensive field and quantitative research that supports the conclusion that when indigenous communities are given the right to self-rule (autonomy), the provision of local public goods, accountability of the local government and citizen satisfaction is significantly better than where indigenous communities are not legally recognized for their autonomy. I have also found that in the context of the sharp escalation of violence Mexico has experienced since 2006, indigenous communities that have gained autonomy and are able to staff, train and control their own local police forces and parallel systems of justice, are significantly better able to deter violent take-over by drug cartels, kidnappings, extortion and other predatory behavior by criminal groups.
More recently I have begun to work on violence against women. According to a 2016 report “A Gendered Analysis of Violent Deaths,” 14 of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates are in Latin America and the rates are significantly increasing in the last years. My work focuses on Mexico, where from 2015 to 2020, incidences of femicides (or the killing of girls and women because they are female) increased by approximately 137 percent. Common characteristics in these countries that may explain high rates of femicide include a dominant patriarchal “machismo” culture, corrupt and ineffective judicial institutions and police, the dominance of drugs cartels and gangs fighting each other and the state.
To sum up, my current research on Brazil and Mexico is related to people of minoritized backgrounds and more recently women, the violence associated with social contracts that treat them as citizens devoid of rights, and the exploration of innovative solutions to problems of violence, human rights abuses, and exclusion.
As I mentioned above, much was achieved by the REDI Task Force under the leadership of Gabriel Hecht that is incredibly well-developed in the report. FSI began to reflect, probably for the first time, on “epistemic racism” or the ways in which racial biases shape what we know, our questions, methodologies, and what we regard as scientific knowledge. The report also generated statistics about the composition within FSI – how we look in terms of the lack of diversity within our faculty, students, and staff. Finally, the report articulated a series of reasonable recommendations of what FSI needs to do to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion. One of the major principles is that this work must be done continuously, over time; there is no true “end point” of advancing equity. It’s a constant process.
The role of the task force this year is to work toward making these recommendations a reality, which is no easy thing because in my opinion racial diversity, inclusion and equity have not sufficiently guided decisions about hiring, resource allocation, research and teaching. We need to make sure that there are comprehensive and structured hiring processes that retain information about the diversity of the candidate pool at each stage and that in every search we actually reach out to a diverse pool, which often is overlooked because faculty at Stanford are often not cognizant of scholars' of color academic work. In terms of admissions, we have to make sure that we broadcast and advertise our programs more broadly and that there is dedicated financial aid to ensure that we can attract and retain a far more diverse student body.
In addition, we will continue with our “Critical Conversations: Race and Global Affairs” speaker series. Thus far we have held two events this year “The Intimate Lives of Enslaved Women” and the “The Afterlife of Colonialism: The Origins of Racial Inequality and Segregation in the Modern World.” We plan to hold at least two more of these during the current academic year. The next one will explore global policing and criminal justice practices in comparative perspective.
Lastly, we aim to have one-on-one conversations with Stanford faculty studying issues on inequality that we can apply to our work at REDI. Epistemic racism, exclusion and inequalities are not simple social problems. In order to build better social contracts that treat everyone with the dignity they deserve, we need to leverage knowledge and research from our colleagues at Stanford and beyond, to provide innovative answers about how to overcome obstacles. In this quest for answers and transformative strategies, we must guide our search on an ethical choice that often will need to highlight the value of inclusion and diversity above others.
Changing institutions and institutional practices is a very difficult task. For example, there is a lot of inertia in the way we handle faculty searches, and the criteria with which we evaluate the candidates does not always have a serious commitment to achieving diversity. Moreover, studies have shown that faculty of color and women disproportionately experience stress due to discrimination and feel they have to work much harder than their colleagues to be seen as legitimate scholars. By contrast, white men tend to be more easily valued and their research esteemed as more influential. These disparities create subtle “cultures of exclusion” and less subtle power hierarchies, which we need to transform to make people of minoritized backgrounds feel esteemed, included, and respected.
REDI was created because of FSI student outcry and a supportive response from FSI’s director, Michael McFaul. In my view, our director's support creates favorable conditions to work toward transforming our institute but the work needs to be reinforced by concrete actions. For example, this year FSI is going to have various faculty searches. We need to make sure that diversity, equity and inclusion effectively play a role in this process. As I mentioned above, this would require transforming the inertia with which we operate when hiring.
We also need dedicated fundraising to attract and support faculty of color and minoritized backgrounds. The report, for example, recommended a “cluster hire” and this would require fundraising and the willingness to make this a priority within FSI. We also need to support our junior faculty of color who are already at Stanford by inviting them to affiliate with our research centers and supporting them financially support and with an inclusive community. Our master’s programs should focus on recruiting more students of color and other underrepresented backgrounds, and we also need to devote resources to fund pre- and post-docs of diverse backgrounds. This would require a commitment from the center’s directors, as well as financial resources. I believe FSI could be a leader at the University by setting the conditions for true equity and inclusion to flourish at our institute.