White Privilege Awareness Week: Showing Up for Conflict by Maddy Frey and Libby Smith

We are Maddy Frey & Libby Smith. In over 2.5 years of friendship, we’ve discovered that we are both passionate about conflict as a generative practice. Strong relationships are critical to good evaluation, and conflict is a natural part of that process. Today, we are writing to encourage the AEA365 community to embrace conflict as a path to transformative change. We will share with you who we are and how that informs how we see and move into conflict.

Maddy’s Conflict Story

I am a white, queer, cisgender woman who grew up in Seattle, went to a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, lived in Indonesia for 2 years as a young adult, and have been living in Atlanta, GA since 2011. I was born the year my mom finished her dissertation on a critical analysis of Marxism, feminism and environmentalism. My parents’ fighting and eventual divorce at the age of 11 had a deep impact on me. While I grew up in a high conflict household, my response was to fight or appease. I carry these reflexive tendencies into adulthood.

Nonviolent communication, mindfulness/meditation practices, therapy, and studying generative conflict have helped me to think about and practice conflict in all of my various relationships and roles, including evaluator, athlete, coach, teammate, spiritual community member, partner, friend, sister, Godmother, business owner, and nonprofit leader. I’m realizing how important my own experience is, my own feelings, my own needs. I’m learning to notice physical responses in my body as important clues of my own wellness, and to slow down and check in with myself. My own wellness is important, and enables me to show up authentically for others. 

Libby’s Conflict Story

I am a 50 year old white, queer, genderqueer woman who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, MN. My ancestors are from Scotland and England, but I had no tangible connection to my ethnic heritage as a child. My parents were born and raised in Iowa, my father worked for the IRS, my mom, a teacher, stayed at home once I was born. My sister is seven years my junior. There was virtually no open conflict in my childhood, although my parents divorced when I was 19, I never witnessed a fight. There was always tension though and the message I received was – don’t talk about how you feel. I carried that into adulthood, into my relationships, and into my work. 

Through somatics I’ve learned that my conditioned tendency is to move away from conflict or tension. I see how I avoided sharing my feelings to avoid conflict, the ways I would check out when people would share anger or frustration with me, how  I would deny my own needs to avoid being in conflict. I minimized my feelings and needs to find love and belonging. Through therapy, a breathwork practice, and politicized somatics I am reshaping my ability to be in generative conflict. 

Telling a New Conflict Story

As we gain more understanding of how our conflict stories are shaped by our childhood experiences, our ancestors, and our social identities, we are also deeply aware that our origin stories are rooted in the hallmarks of white dominant culture, including the fear of open conflict, right to comfort, urgency & perfectionism. Undoing these patterns is lifelong work. 

We’ve both navigated our way towards a new conflict story, but finding supportive resources wasn’t easy. Unfortunately most approaches to conflict “management” are also grounded in white dominant culture. We offer these resources as a path to embracing conflict. We encourage you to explore your own conflict story. Who are you, and how does your life experience inform how you see and move into conflict? How are you addressing (or avoiding) conflict in your personal and professional spaces? 

Rad Resources: 


The American Evaluation Association is hosting White Privilege Week with some of our colleagues who are working on undoing internalized white supremacy. 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@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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