Podcast Episode 59: Hiding in the Bathroom with Morra Aarons Mele
Podcast Episode 60: Standing in the Mess with Lucy Sanders

Meet the Expert: Chris Haigh of True Change Associates

Chris founded True Change Associates in 2015 after 20 years of working with academic institutions, corporations, and nonprofit organizations focusing on diversity and inclusion, social justice, leadership development, and team building.  TCA’s mission is to work in community with others in helping people and organizations move through personal growth to creating lasting institutional and systemic change around equity and inclusion.

What is True Change and why did you name it that?

True Change Associates’ (TCA) mission is to help guide organizations and individuals that want to engage in the work of creating transformational institutional change and personal growth in the areas of equity and inclusion. I had been doing this work for over 20 years within institutions, and the most frustrating part was the scratch the surface or checkbox approach that really did not make measurable change in terms of equity. When I decided to leave my full-time job a few years ago to start this business, many people in my life were surprised and the more I tried to articulate what was driving me, the phrase “true change” kept popping up. We have become pretty good at the interpersonal level of diversity and inclusion, which is very important, but true lasting change has to also be done on the institutional or systemic, and cultural level.  This is much harder to understand and get to. It is easy to have a few required “cultural competency” courses for our folks, but that will not create equitable and socially just organizations alone. Holding up a mirror to our culture, our policies, our practice, essentially the way of being as an organization, that creates true change. It is hard, challenging and often vulnerable work, but I believe that most people want to get there. I hope that my experience and perspective can offer guidance on the journey.

How did you get involved in working in diversity and inclusion?

I never would have predicted that this would be my life’s work!  But it is precisely my life’s story that made my professional story appear. I have joked that I started this work from a place of anger and loss in my early 20s, and there is actually some truth to that.  As a first-generation college student from a working-class family who had the grades to get into a prestigious small university, I was overwhelmed by the class privilege and otherness I felt. Socially, college was a struggle. Then I came out and the loss of family and friends was devastating. So it was this anger that fueled me to move to Boston and get involved with advocacy and activism within the nonprofit sector. Doing that work was an amazing education for me!  It was there I learned the language, terminology and discourse of social justice and equity, and most importantly how the marginalization of groups from many identities are connected on a systemic level in our society. And on a personal level it gave me the space to wrestle with, and understand, my multiple identities, learning that I have privilege in some areas of life, especially being white, while also facing inequity in others.  Not to mention the intersection of those. I am happy to say that I no longer do this work from a place of anger, but rather from a place of love, community, hope and liberation. Yes, this work is challenging, but my life is so rich because of it.  After all anything worth doing is hard, right?

What would you say to people who are looking to make the world a better place, but are frustrated and feel hopeless? (thanks Trump ;))

I have been asked this question a lot lately. First, it is important to name that what we are seeing now in terms of racial injustice, white supremacy, xenophobia, class inequality, sexism, and much more, is not new. We may be seeing it more (media and social media are playing a big part) but all of this has been happening for quite some time.  However, we are making progress. If you look at US history, and I mean really look at it and understand it, not the whitewashed version we so often get in our grade school education, our history created the inequities that we see today, through colonization, laws and culture. And over the course of our history we make some progress, and then we cycle back to oppressive laws, then we make some more progress, then we cycle again. Understanding this history and advocating for equity for everyone is crucial regardless of what part of the cycle we are in, or who is on office.

Second, it is easy to feel hopeless and overwhelmed with the amount if information we have access to everyday. To this I would say do two things, narrow your intake and find your community.  Limit your time with news, or social media, and pick and choose where and when you get your news.  We all fear we will miss something, but trust me, you will not miss the important stuff.  Then if an issue comes up that you want to learn more about, research that issue intentionally. Lastly, find your community in which you can talk about these things with, process with, make sense of with. Find that support and love. Please note that I am definitely not saying to stay away from people with different opinions, because engaging in open and honest dialogue with others with different experiences and perspectives is crucial to change and growth. Rather what I am saying is to pay attention to how you are receiving information, who you are spending time with, and what fills your tank, so that it becomes easier to engage with others who may have different opinions.

What’s your vision for the future of True Change?

My personal and professional vision is to do my part in creating a more just and equitable world, so the future of True Change is doing work in support of that vision. I do believe that the work must be done in community and collaboratively because there is no easy answer or script in terms of working towards equity. I am blessed to know and work with many associates across the country, and I hope the TCA community keeps growing. Connecting with She+ Geeks Out has been an amazing part of TCA’s journey, and I am excited to see where that leads.

Any final advice you’d like to give someone just starting on their journey toward greater understanding of difference and inclusion?

It is just that, a journey.  It is a life-long process of exploration, which should not seem daunting, but exciting.  There is so much to learn, not only about others, but ourselves.