Changing Systems: Racism

Background 

Partners in ChangePicture1

Following the community reaction to events in Ferguson that occurred in 2014, various nonprofits, colleges and universities, businesses and school mobilized to form initiation to address racial issues as a region. Among the initiatives formed, a number of high school from different districts planned and participated in a number of Student Summits on Race, lead by the EducationPlus Gateway2Change movement. The Social System Design Lab lab was approached to host the fourth summit because of our prior engagement and ongoing collaborations in K-12 with Ritenour and Jennings School Districts and deep commitment to social justice issues. This summit event would become the Changing Systems Youth Summit on Racism.​

Foundation of Success

The Changing Systems Youth Summit on Racism was a 3-day summit designed and facilitated by fourteen SSDL interns from Ritenour and Jennings high schools with training in systems thinking and system dynamics. The intern crafted mission statement for the summit was,

We want to influence people’s perspectives on social justice to create less tension and promote unity within all communities and within ourselves”

Forty students from regional high schools participated in a series of group model building (GMB) workshops to address issues of structural racism in schools from a systems (or feedback) perspective to create positive social change.

Impact

The summit really brought to life one of the core missions of the SSDL, to build capacity for systems perspectives in youth to create future generations of systems thinkers.

Teen participants reflected that their minds had been transformed to think in systems. Their new mental models identified life as a complex system of interwoven elements, in which they could intervene and potentially generate lasting change. One student described that she now looks at problems structurally, exploring all the various factors that are contributing to a certain situation before determining her action.

After participating in the summit, many of the youth interns and summit participants were eager to share systems thinking/system dynamics in their schools and among their peers. A cohort of interns shared their work and co-facilitated GMB workshops as part of a core module at a systems thinking “camp” that brings together teams of students, parents, educators, and business and community leaders, Camp Snowball.

The summit was inspiring for everyone who participated, including the stakeholders and professionals interested in systems methods that attended final events. It was an environment of empowerment, giving the youth a voice to address their perspectives, to grow in their understanding, and what they can do in their communities to make a change.