SEA Affiliate Week: Illuminating Racism During Evaluation by Dr. Martha Brown

Image of Dr. Martha Brown

My name is Martha Brown, President of RJAE Consulting. Evaluators are often called to use our power and privilege to advance a more equitable society by “converting, illuminating, and overtly identifying racist policies and practices” (Bledsoe, 2018, p. 512). Being a white woman, I take this calling seriously and wrestle with the question, “What does it look like to enter a racialized environment when you are trying to understand the program, its macro- and micro-context, and its outcomes, all while conceptualizing, implementing, and disseminating an evaluation that is both rigorous and useful?” (Thomas et al., 2018, p. 519).

I was once hired to analyze client-written surveys for an after-school arts education program. One child responded to the question, “Is there anything you would change about the program?” by writing: “Let Black people have even more freedom in this world.” I knew I needed to illuminate this comment, but how? 

During analysis, I noticed some teaching artists used White-coded language when referring to their students (i.e. “diverse”, “those students”, “different”). The data also indicated structural racism in the district, showing a lack of educational opportunities for students in the north county, where residents were primarily people of color. This led me to ask myself these questions: How can teaching art help students find their voice in an unjust and racist society? How can using art as a form of self-expression lead to individual empowerment and action? What kind of culturally relevant art lessons will bring students into an awareness of their own power to change their world?

I felt strongly that I needed to include this discussion in the report and illuminate the racism identified by the data, so I requested a pre-report meeting to discuss these issues. Although our conversation started with general survey findings, we moved on to discuss possibilities for the future that would allow for greater student expression about social justice issues. We explored these and other questions together: How can students use art to find and use their voice to speak about racism and other social justice issues? How can we better equip teaching artists to do this work? How would teaching artists and students be changed? What kind of data would evaluators collect to document those changes?

I learned to step into the uncomfortable space of addressing White privilege, educational inequities, and structural racism, all within the course of a seemingly simple evaluation. A child opened the door, and I stepped through it. Scary? Yes. But this is the work we are called to do.

Rad Resources:

  • Bledsoe, K. (2018). Introduction to the section on race and evaluation. American Journal of Evaluation
  • Thomas, V. G., Madison, A., Rockcliffe, F, DeLaine, K. & Lowe, S. M. (2018). Racism, social programming and evaluation: Where do we go from here? American Journal of Evaluation
  • DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA)

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating SEA Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the Southeast Evaluation Association. All of the blog contributions this week come from our SEA members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “SEA Affiliate Week: Illuminating Racism During Evaluation by Dr. Martha Brown”

  1. “A child opened the door, and I stepped through it. Scary? Yes. But this is the work we are called to do.” Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Dr. Sondra LoRe

    Thank you for the beautiful post. There is so much to learn from children. Thank you for sharing this story.

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