The Importance of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion with NAEA’s Ray Yang (Ep. 292)

Today, Tim is joined by Ray Yang, NAEA’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Special Initiatives. In this wide-ranging discussion, they talk about the creation of Ray’s new role, the initiatives and resources NAEA will be developing, and how teachers who are interested in these ideas can start doing the work. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz

A few months ago, Ray Yang was named as the director of equity, diversity and inclusion and special initiatives at NAEA. And I’m very excited to have them on the podcast today. Now I was lucky enough to work with Ray when they were with AOEU for a little bit. And Ray has been an art teacher, a dean, an administrator, a museum educator, done PD and done outreach. And I’ll let them talk about their career a little bit more in just a second but before I bring them on, I want to tell a quick story that can hopefully inform the conversation just a little bit today. Now in 2018, NAEA had their national convention in Seattle. I was there with AOEU, Ray was there because Ray is from Seattle and we just ran in to each other by chance. And we are sitting together during one of those large general sessions.

And up on stage, the reps from NAEA were talking about the new equity, diversity and inclusion task force that was going to be starting soon. Ray just got this look in their eye and said, “I really want to be a part of that.” And lo and behold, they became a part of it and the work from that task force has translated into Ray being named to this new position. And I think there are a lot of really good things that are going to be coming down the pipeline with both NAEA’s focus on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and also having Ray in that position. I think they’re going to do great but I am very excited for the opportunity to talk to Ray about all of that. So let me bring them on now.

Ray Yang is joining me now. Ray, how are you?

Ray: I’m good. Thanks Tim. How are you?

Tim: I am doing well. We have a lot of big things, a lot of important things to talk about today but to start with, I would love you to just introduce yourself. Can you tell people a little bit about yourself, what you’ve done as an art educator? Anything else you want to share with us?

Ray: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, my name is Ray Yang. I use they/them pronouns. I’ll mention and I’m also, I mean my current role is as the director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and special initiatives for the National Art Education Association, so NAEA. I live in Seattle, Washington, so I actually work remotely NAEA’s headquarters is in Alexandria, Virginia and I’ve been an art educator for about, I mean, it’s wild to think about it for about 20 plus years, I’ve been doing this work. And so ever since grad school, I grew up on the east coast. I did my graduate work at the school of the Art Institute, Chicago, and I’ve had a career which has really spanned just about, I think, every single kind of arena that arts education includes.

So worked in museums, worked as a teaching artist, done community arts, education work, teaching professional art, training artists, professional development work. Worked as an administrator in public schools in Chicago, I’ve taught in graduate school, taught graduate courses. I’ve been a classroom teacher. So at an in Penn school taught middle and high school students worked at the, more recently worked at the Seattle art museum doing some teaching artist work. So a little bit of everything and throughout all of that too, also always been thinking about issues of equity and diversity within my arts education teaching work. So a little bit of everything I think kind of throughout my time.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. It’s been an impressive career. We’ll say that, now you and I worked together a while back when you spend some time working at art of education. So I got to know you there and now, when I saw that you were named as the director of equity, diversity and inclusion, and I don’t remember the full, super long title.

Ray: No worries.

Tim: You know I just thought to myself, this is a perfect fit for you, so can you talk a little bit, I guess about how the position came about and why you thought it was a good fit for you, why this job is, aligns with your passions and what you want to do.

Ray: Yeah, absolutely. So the equity diversity and inclusion work has been happening for a while. And there’ve been some really awesome people who’ve been shepherding this work throughout the years, but I’d say it really started picking up steam maybe like four or five years ago now. So a couple folks who are instrumental in this work were Wanda Knight who is actually going to be the president-elect of NAEA, as well as James Rolling who is the current president. Of NAEA and so they were both involved with the initial ED&I task force, which was created several years ago. And I kind of think of that as like one of the initial sort of major initiatives that NAEA was doing to really look at where the organization stood around these kinds of issues. And so they gathered a group of, I think it was about 20 people from around the country.

I was actually part of that initial task force. And so there were several meetings where we were looking at NAEA kind of taking a hard look and a really critical look at the organization. And from that work was created a set of recommendations about 16 recommendations for the organization. And those are still kind of the giving meds, the guiding star for this work within the organization. The first recommendation was actually a creating a standing commission for ED&I work, which was done very quickly. So there’s actually a group of the ED&I commission is a group that is selected and there are, I believe it is eight commissioners. I should know this number off of my head, who they represent all the different divisions. And then there are also a couple of, at large who help to guide the equity inclusion work. And then the last recommendation was actually the creation of a staff position that manages equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives for the organization.

And that really came into focus when Mario Rossero, who is the current executive director for NAEA took charge. And he has been, he’s amazing, has been instrumental in pushing that work. It’s something that he’s passionate about as well. And so he created the director of ED&I at NAEA. And so this role is actually only about three and a half months old now at this point. So it’s still fairly new, it did not exist before. And when it came around, I was excited. Cause I was, first of all the fact that this was happening, right. This is a recommendation that the group had created. It’s exciting to see that actually was moving. And then, secondly, this is just something that, like you said, this is something I’m passionate about. This is something I’ve always, I’ve been thinking about this within my teaching, within my work, since, since grad school, since, you know, very far, back early on and something that I’m continuing to be excited about.

And I’ll be really honest. And when I say that, I only, I also felt confident that this work would mean something. I would actually have an impact based on where the leadership is now based on folks like Wanda and James and Mario, because I think you can have a director of ED&I but nothing happens, but you have to have that leadership support in order to really push this, and so I mean, when it came around, I was excited. I want to put my name into that and was lucky enough to be selected for the role.

Tim: All right. So now that you’re in this position, you’ve been there a few months. Can you talk about some of your goals? Like what do you want to accomplish or what does NAEA at large want to accomplish when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion?

Ray: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. You know, in a lot of ways the goals are really they’re based along upon what the, what our membership wants, right. We’ve heard from our membership that this is important to them that this really matters, and this is something that they want to have happening. And so, we’re looking at ways that like any NAEA policies need to be reexamined and rebuilt and considering, and how do we consider issues of equity versus inclusion within that? We’re looking at a lot of communication, because I think one of the major issues with equity, diversity inclusion work right now is that folks don’t always have a clear idea of what that means or what it is. And also there’s a lot of stuff out there in the world which I think unfortunately really cast, reimbursing inclusion work as a negative, right?

It started to flip it on its head because as we know, there are folks who, just to be to put a polite, they’re very opposed to this work moving forward or just are resistant to it. And so how can we as an organization, serve our membership in a way that we can help clarify, help really kind of show why this work is so urgent, why it’s so important and how can we do that in a way that is also thinking about keeping everybody in the conversation. I think one of the things about this job is that which to be really Frank is also a challenge for me sometimes is like, I have to be very much not exactly neutral, but I have to I’m pushing the work, but also trying keep people in a conversation.

I think folks have different ways of thinking about university inclusion work. You know, sometimes it’s like the train is going, I’m getting on the train. And if we leave some folks behind, I’m really sorry, but we got to go. Others is, like we’ve got to hold the doors, we’ve got to keep these doors open so we can get as many people onto the train as possible. And so there’s this kind of balance that I’m trying to play between keeping those doors open, because I want to get as many people as possible, but that we don’t stay here in the same spot, on and on. Which I think is actually a fair critique of ED&I work is that sometimes there’s a lot of talk, but not a lot of action. So how are we making sure that there is action?

So communication, I think it’s building the capacity and skills of our membership and that’s through dialogue and conversation about these things, building the capacity for folks to deal with work. That’s things that are uncomfortable, things that are not going to be easy conversations. We know that, that’s part of what ED&I work is, and also creating resources. And so I’ll talk a little bit, in a second about some of the resources, but how do we provide concrete? Whether that’s lessons in curricula, whether that’s strategies for conversation, whether that’s links to like other podcasts, things that, I’ll, even things that like AOEU has done, which I think are really great. I think I’ve seen a lot of really, I was really impressed with the CRT piece.

Tim: It’s important to talk about that stuff like that. That’s really great. And so how can we link and share to like things like that, which I think are essential.

Yeah. That’s, that’s very true. I like you said, I think there’s a lot out there, but we do need to figure out how people can access that stuff, how they can get started. But yeah. Can I ask you about some specifics? You’re talking about wanting take action. Like, do you have any initiatives or specific plans that you can share? Can you talk about out some things that you are going to be working on in the coming months?

Ray: Yeah, absolutely. One of the major, the pieces that we’re going to do is we are going to launch a state ED&I liaison role. And so we’re looking to create is a physician that works with the state art associations. So every state who will be essentially a conduit kind of two-way conduit can, will be in close communication with me to talk about the priorities that NAEA has created, but also then letting us know what the specific needs and priorities are for their individual states. ED&I work, I think is important like a couple to really think about is that like number one, it’s not the work of just one person it’s not owned by one person. This is the kind of work that doesn’t get done unless we all do it together. So it has to be collaborative. Number two, it’s not a one size fits all.

Everyone’s at a different place in their journey. And so trying to create like a giant plan that we say, every state needs to do this and meet this and that’s not going to work. And so how can we really meet the states where they are just like, this is, I think we talk about teaching pedagogy. It’s not so different, right? When we’re in a classroom, we got to meet kids where they are like, not every kid comes into the same level of skill as an artist. And so, to expect every kid to be painting, doing a little painting is not like the first thing when they’re not even, they haven’t had a basic background in the elements. And so how can we work with the states to think about where they are? And so that state liaison role is going to be essential for that.

There’s going to be a series of trainings that will do with those individuals. They will be able to help create their own ED&I teams. And so we’re going to provide resources and it’ll be a kind of back and forth relationship. And so we really see that as building our network in order to expand this ED&I wok, that’s one of the major things we have happening. That’s going to be rolling out very soon. And I’m excited for that. We’ve been doing, we’re also working on something called it’s going to be called “The hub” right now is our resource repository, where we will be able to take resources that have been done around equity university inclusion with an NAEA and store them there. And that includes looking at creating our own potentially our own podcast or video cast series that we’ll have some of these conversations bringing folks in who are talking about these topics links to online resources sharing.

And this is a lot of this work is its generated by ED&I commission, but sharing articles, writing that they have around these topics. So that’s going to be very much a space that we can kind of gather resources and hold and be able to share with folks. And that’s in process right now. We’re hoping to have that up soon and definitely, before the convention in my, but be able to share that with people. And then, the last piece I’ll say is that we’ve been doing, we’ve had a, been lucky enough to have this a grant through the NAEA over the last few years where we’ve been doing a lot of cultural competency training work and started developing some models, which I think are doing some really great work, kind of a train to trainer model piece where we are working with a group of arts educators.

And then they’ve been doing trainings. They most recently did that at the state leadership regional meetings that happened this past summer and did some cultural competency work with the folks who were at those meetings. And so we’re looking to expand that and that’ll probably be part of the state ED&I liaison work too, but it’s sort of a professional development and a leadership component kind of coming together and building. So those are some of the big things that we have coming up. And I mean, and there’s other stuff too, that we’re excited for. The commission is hard at work, trying to put together a lot of these pieces.

Tim: Yeah. That’s awesome to hear. And that is a lot to look forward to. All right. I have two more questions for you. One is more big picture. One is very like small focus, but big picture wise, when we look at the ranks of art educators, when we look at ourselves as a whole, it’s clear, at least to me that we have some work to do when it comes to diversity in our ranks. So is that a goal for you or for NAEA? Where do you begin with something like that, trying to diversify the ranks of our teachers that are out there?

Ray: I think it’s actually one of the most important questions. Cause I think if we talk about, the field, I appreciate you talk about that. We know that’s work that needs to be done and it’s so important. And central, it is a goal for me. Of course, it’s a goal for NAEA it’s within the recommendations from the ED&I task force to look at the diversity of the field and how do we grow recruit and retain those individuals for us. So right now we’re talking about a couple different strategies there at the most last start last year, and we’ll continue to move forward is that we had a ED&I scholarship that was specifically, really looking at like BIPOC folks and trying to encourage them to be able to attend the convention.

And so like looking at costs and how do we alleviate that cost. So that scholarships built there. We have continued to engage with that group and we’re trying to like build as a cohort to do some more work as, as leaders in the field. And so that’s part of a leadership and mentorship development piece that we see as being really essential. And we, several of our commissioners are really passionate and excited for that work because, you can encourage people to come in the field all you want, but also how do you keep them? How do you keep them and grow them? You know, folks like James and Wanda as the president and president elect, they’ve done an amazing job of actually being mentors to a lot of these types of individuals and so they’ve paved the way and they’re making sure that others are able to follow them in that path.

So mentorship and leadership training is something that we really are looking at. Another element is actually at the convention this year, we’re going to create some cultural identity and affinity spaces for folks. Because we want to really look at again, like how do we, when to the convention, and you look around, if you’re not someone who’s white, you often don’t see a lot of faces that are like yours. And you know, that’s just being really honest within like this context, right? And that’s not like putting down any of the people who are there. I’m excited. I love that they’re, we have of, like I mentioned, we’re able to bring all these amazing art educators together, but for those underrepresented groups, how do we create spaces for them to connect with others and also build their own power? And so creating these cultural identity groups spaces will help to do that.

And so, and we’re not talking just racial identity groups, but the racial we’re looking at gender and sexuality disability. And so we want to start to build some of those spaces. This is a first kind of crack edit. We’re going to create a space and like build where they can just connect and talk to each other and then hopefully grow that throughout the year because these are also just a start. This is just a beginning to that kind of work. You can’t just end it, like make the space and be like, “yay, we’re done” ED&I work never ends it’s ongoing. And so the, those spaces will be a start to help to hopefully I’m hoping to address some of those, some of the lack of diversity that we have.

Tim: Yeah. That sounds really promising. Then the last thing I wanted to ask you, I guess, just advice for you for people who are interested in this topic. Like what do you say for, people who are interested in doing, equity, diversity and inclusion work, but they don’t know where to start. They don’t know how to begin. Like what can they do, in their own circles, in their own classrooms to, to get started with this type of work?

Ray: Again, excellent question. We actually do have an NAEA resource called, “Getting started with ED&I” it’s a part of our tool kits. So that’s online now and it’s a great document that it actually was created before I even started. So again, NAEA look and thinking about this work, but Mario was working with the ED&I commission to graph these, this kind of getting started toolkit. And so that’s available on our website, but, I think it’s important just to start taking, doing some reflection. I don’t think there’s enough reflection being done in general in the field. And so we take a look at our own teaching in the classroom, who are the artists that were elevating, who are the artists that kids are seeing? Are they reflective of the population of students that you, that you’re teaching?

And you know, not like, one of the things I used to do in my classroom is I really very consciously was showing women artists and artists of color, as if I was showing any kinds of exemplars or like artists to relate to the work we were doing because they weren’t represented or they weren’t seen enough. I looked at the posters that I had in my classroom. And I was always trying to share and put up posters of again, artists who are not part of the cannon, who just looked, who were able to bring some diversity to the field. And so as a teacher, I think that’s a great place to start who are the artists you’re showing who are the artists you’re sharing with students and then starting to move, move into I, one of the thing, the biggest challenges, I think right now that we’re encountering is that in the field broadly in education, there’s this attack on being able to teach equity and adversity work.

Right. We know there’s legislation in some states where like that’s happening and essentially, like CRT is the kind of like the boogeyman of like language they use. But when you look further down, it’s actually, they’re talking about not being able to teach about identity and race. And I think our teachers are one of the, they teach that’s a core part of what we teach. And we’re asking students to express themselves, they’re teaching about who they are. And they’re expressing themselves through their identity. Right. There’s obviously technical skill, other things that come into it, but their ideas come from who they are. And so how can we, make sure that those classroom teachers are still able to do that and how can we make sure that they’re still feeling comfortable encouraging their students to express themselves in that way.

And so, I would say as a teacher, are you encouraging your students to ask questions and express themselves and really kind of not necessarily shy away from difficult conversation and topics, but I think what, when students are able to create work that spurs dialogue and conversation, and comes from who they are, that’s when I feel like I’m most successful. And I think a lot of teachers would agree. And so are you doing that? It’s hard. It’s challenging in a way that I think is, amplified more now than ever. And so hopefully what some of the work that we’re doing within NAEA and my work as the director of ED&I will help to support teachers in that and all, so find ways for them to address that.

But do that work in your own classroom. And actually, I would also encourage folks to also ask questions about for themselves, do their own reflecting. If we can be open-minded and really think about, ask questions, like did something I do with something I, that I did insensitive or not thinking about this, or not being inclusive and not get defensive around that, we can all grow because yeah. Then we can kind of build classrooms that are going to support all of our students and elevate all of our students.

Tim: Yeah. Very well said. All right. Well, we will go ahead and wrap it up there, Ray. Thank you so much for giving us the time. Thank you so much for the conversation. I appreciate it. And you’ve given us a lot to look forward to in the coming months from NAEA. So thank you for all that.

Ray: Thank you, Tim. Appreciate it.

Tim: As I just said to Ray, there is a lot to look forward to also a lot to think about. And one thought, one idea that I kept coming back to as we were talking was the train analogy that Ray used. I really appreciate that analogy. And I know that balance is difficult because so many people want to move but you also want to get as many people to come along as possible. So, the question is how do you find that balance? I know they want to help everyone get on board, but they also need to keep from getting bogged down, keep from just having the wheels spinning as you continue to talk about things. But my impression from our discussion today is that this ED&I work is not just talk. You know, they’re not going to be just spinning their wheels.

They’re going to be doing the work. There are specific goals, specific initiatives, and Ray seems to have a clear vision for what they want to accomplish. There are resources being created. There are concrete takeaways for teachers and people who want to do the work. I will link to a couple of things that Ray shared, including that getting started with ED&I and document from NAEA that people can check out, find these show notes in order to find those. I will also link to the CRT article from Jenny Drummond that we discussed briefly, because I think it’s a good one that is worth reading, but all that being said, I just want to send a big thank you to Ray for coming on. I appreciate that they are taking on a challenging role and I appreciate that there’s a lot of work to do.

And right now there’s no roadmap on how to do it. This is something that NAEA has never done before, or at least I have not seen it from them. And I’m glad that they’re taking it on in a real and serious way, but whatever comes of it, whatever the results are of this work, I think it’s worth just one final thought here. I just want to leave you with something that Ray said when they were talking about some of the new work that’s getting started and how we try to get everyone on board, they said, “this work doesn’t get done unless we all do it together.”

So like Ray recommended. And like I say, far too often at the end of this podcast, I would encourage you if you to take some time to reflect on what you’re doing in your own classroom, what you want to be doing, what you can get better at and how you might want to be a part of this work. Art Ed Radio is produced by the art of education university with audio engineering, from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening, and we’ll talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.