Ash Center Conference Panelists Call for Bold Societal Change to Promote Equity


Nonprofit leaders and activists argued that non-government agencies and individuals ought to take bold action to promote equity in a virtual panel that closed out the annual Truth and Transformation Conference on Friday.

Hosted by the the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center’s Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project, this year’s conference covered topics including the history of racism and the economic repercussions of racism.

The speakers on the panel, which was moderated by American Studies Ph.D. candidate Mary McNeil, explained how they believe organizations should be held accountable for their promises on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said he believes it is important to acknowledge that racial groups experience racism differently.


“Speaking as an East Asian American male, I recognize that I enjoy certain privileges,” Yang said. “So if I’m saying that we should all be treated equally, that’s not right, because the reality is, different communities have suffered in different ways.”

Eric K. Ward, director of the Western States Center, said during the event that society should invest in transforming power structures to achieve aspirations surrounding equity.

“I think that the conversation around equity is much more complicated and nuanced than this society will allow for, and that is why the shifting of leadership structure becomes so important in this moment,” Ward said.

Inequity arises from institutions of governance, according to Ward. He added that recognizing systemic racism and sexism is key to ensuring that everyone can “live, love, worship, and work free from fear and bigotry.”

Non-governmental institutions, such as news platforms and corporations, are also responsible for ensuring “equality of outcomes,” according to Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust.

In the fight for equity, Yang cited the importance of combating misinformation. Misrepresentations of marginalized groups — such as the notion that people receiving federal nutrition assistance do not work hard — may dissuade people from supporting programs aimed at rectifying structural inequalities, he explained.

“One of the fights that all of us need to engage in is against misinformation and disinformation,” Yang said. “Let’s be clear: there is a campaign out there that is trying to distort a lot of what is happening in society.”

While structural issues perpetuate inequity, every individual has a personal role in dispelling misinformation, according to Yang.

“Part of it is responsibility of the platforms, the Facebooks and Twitters — what are they doing to prevent false information from getting out?” Yang added. “Part of it is on all of us to make sure that we are contributing to getting the right information that is out there.”