How to be a better ally year-round, not just in June

We observe two important moments in American history each June: Pride Month and Juneteenth. These events mark two turning points in the civil rights movement and social change, and they shine a spotlight on the struggles and subsequent triumphs of two marginalized groups in our country.

It’s taken the bravery and support of a lot of people to get this far. In the years that followed these events, we’ve witnessed activism and progress with efforts such as the Black Panther’s Free People’s Clinics in the ’70s and the early advocacy work of the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in the ’80s for people living with HIV. The work is not over. With a rise in police brutality against African Americans and the nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in 2022 (as of March), solidarity is crucial.

June is a month of programs, celebrations and events, but it is also a month when the word ally is used often. We hear it in conversation and on social media. It’s a reminder that the work must keep moving–not just in June but beyond. As we raise awareness and educate ourselves on LGBTQI+ and Black issues, it’s important to remember that progress wasn’t easily won.

It wasn’t until June 1999–thirty years after the –the Stonewall Uprising of 1969– that President Bill Clinton proclaimed June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Today, Pride not only celebrates the LGBTQI+ community but also commemorates a critical moment in what was once called the gay civil rights movement. The events of Stonewall, the bravery of those who resisted harassment and mistreatment by New York City officers, and the activism that followed led to the first Pride marches in June 1970.

More than a century earlier, African Americans in Texas first celebrated Juneteenth. June 19, 1865, marks the moment when the last group of enslaved people received news of their freedom and the end of slavery–two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is an opportunity to recognize the struggle and celebrate the accomplishments of Black people. As of 2021, Juneteenth is a federal holiday, signed into law by President Joe Biden.

If you want to carry some of the weight and do the work, but you’re unsure if you’re doing it right, we’re here to help. In this post, we’ll cover what allyship is, why it’s important and provide suggestions for practice.

What is Allyship (and Why Does it Matter)?

Let’s start with allyship’s base word–a more familiar term.

Ally

Typically used as a noun, ally, in simplest terms, is a person who supports, helps or advocates for an effort or a group of people.

Some would argue that ally is not a noun and that if you see it as such, you are doing it all wrong. Classifying ally as a noun implies that it’s an identity or status. However, it is not something that can be achieved.

Let’s take this a step further and define allyship. Understanding its meaning can get us closer to knowing how to do allyship right.

Allyship

The Rochester Racial Justice toolkit defines allyship as:

Allyship is a proactive, ongoing, and incredibly difficult practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group’s basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society.

Now, let’s break that down.

  • Allyship is active. It’s a process and a practice. It’s going to take time. Make sure you’re up for the challenge.
  • Allyship is not easy work. Practice patience and own your mistakes. You’re not always going to get it right.
  • Allyship requires understanding. Be ready to educate yourself and understand the concerns and challenges of those you want to unite with.
  • Allyship is not a solo effort. Work in unity with marginalized group(s) to disrupt the systems that are holding them back.

The importance of allyship

The communities we belong to–where we live, work and learn–are diverse. As an institution of higher education, we know that inclusion leads to better retention and engagement of students.

Through allyship, we can be powerful supporters of social change and better inclusion. We can create and support more diverse learning communities and workplaces. The impact of this affects the overall well-being of our communities.

Allyship in action

Are you ready to get to work? It all starts with education and awareness. So, here’s a jumping-off point for becoming a better ally.

  • Do listen and ask how you can help.
  • Don’t expect another person to educate you about their identity.
  • Do accept criticism thoughtfully. Don’t broadcast your qualifications for being an ally.
  • Do speak up when you hear biased language.
  • Don’t apologize for the actions of your identity group.
  • Do seek support from experienced allies within your identity group.
  • Don’t expect credit for being an ally.
  • Do acknowledge intersectionality.
  • Do learn about local organizations already doing the work.
  • Do talk to your people about the change you want to see.
  • Do donate money to organizations you trust and whose work you support.
  • Do volunteer work.

LGBTQ+ Allyship

  • Refuse to tolerate anti-lesbian, -gay, -bisexual, -trans or -queer (LGBTQI+) comments, attitudes, remarks or jokes.
  • Ask others that any anti-LGBTQI+ humor displayed in common areas be removed completely or placed within private offices or living spaces.
  • Display positive materials in support of people who are LGBTQI+. If possible, post flyers on activities, support groups, programs, and resources for people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
  • Do not assume that everyone you meet is heterosexual.
  • Use inclusive, non-gender-specific language that does not assume heterosexuality in others. Use inclusive language in conversation and also in written materials, policies, forms, etc.
  • Educate yourself on issues and concerns for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer. Take the initiative to obtain accurate information.
  • Attend events, meetings, or programs sponsored by or for people who are LGBTQI+.
  • Gain insight by talking to people who are LGBTQI+. Learn from their experiences.

African American Allyship

  • Be willing to listen and learn.
  • Help open up spaces without taking them over.
  • Do your research.
  • Resist the “white savior” complex.
  • Start in your own circle.
  • Assume racism is everywhere, every day.
  • Notice who is the center of attention and who is the center of power.
  • Notice how racism is denied, minimized, and justified.
  • Understand the connections between racism, economic issues, sexism, and other
  • forms of injustice.
  • Learn something about the history of white people who have worked for racial justice.

The next step

Allyship is a learning process. It challenges us to think critically, build relationships and create more inclusive spaces. You have the basics you need to get started—all that’s left to do is to continue the work.


Resources and related links

LGBTQ History and Why It Matters: a lesson plan for teaching LGBTQ history from the Roman Empire to 2016.
Gender identity terminology: Spalding University gender identity terms used for self-identification
What is Juneteenth? The History of a Holiday
Anti-Racism Resources: a Spalding University library guide
Collective Care Center: speciality clinic for treating racial trauma
Human Rights Campaign: ways to get involved
NAACAP: take action

Spalding University as an institution and President Tori Murden McClure as its top executive were both announced last week as award recipients from Louisville Business First. President McClure was named to Business First’s 2021 list of Greater Louisville’s Most Admired CEOs, and Spalding has received a Business Impact Award for its contribution to furthering racial justice and equality (subscription link).

Spalding, McClure and the other honorees will be recognized at an event at the Galt House on Nov. 9 as well as in the Nov. 12 edition of Louisville Business First.

Spalding is one of  six organizations to be honored with a Business Impact Award, which goes to “companies or organizations who have taken specific steps to assist their employees or community during the Covid-19 outbreak and/or to further racial justice and equality,” according to Louisville Business First.

Spalding was an outward supporter of protests against racial injustice in downtown Louisville in 2020 and hosted two demonstrations on campus. Since 2020, it has leaned into its social justice mission, launching curriculum for its Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Studies program that uniquely focuses on restorative justice and criminal justice reform; developing the Collective Care Center as Louisville’s only behavioral health clinic focused on treating racial trauma; appointing Collective Care Center director and psychology faculty member Dr. Steven Kniffley to be Chief Diversity Officer; launching a professional development/continuing education training program for outside groups in antiracism; and earning a $200,000 grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation to support diversity and equity initiatives.

McClure, who is in her 11th year as President at Spalding, is one of 25 chief executives in a range of industries to make the list of Most Admired CEOs for 2021. Louisville Business First describes the Most Admired CEOs program as one that recognizes “outstanding chief executives and those holding equivalent titles” who are “innovators, standard-bearers, role models and exceptional leaders. Their contributions impact the company they head as well as the community in which they serve. A commitment to financial success, quality, workplace wellness, diversity and philanthropy are hallmarks of an exceptional and admired chief executive.”

Spalding is the only organization in 2021 to be honored both for Business Impact and for having one of the Most Admired CEOs.

During her time at Spalding, McClure has overseen an expansion of the university’s downtown campus to 23 acres, including the creation of two on-campus parks totaling more than 3.5 acres, a 7-acre athletic fields complex on Ninth Street and the acquisition and renovation of the Republic Bank Academic Center, which houses the schools of nursing and social work. Spalding is currently renovating a 22,500-square foot building at 961 S. Third Street that will become the home of the new Kosair Charities School of Physical Therapy and Center for Interprofessional Education.

Over the past 18 months, she guided Spalding into the aforementioned diversity and inclusion initiatives while also leading the university to a transition in spring 2020 to fully remote learning at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a safe partial return to in-person operations in Fall 2020 and a safe full return to in-person operations in Fall 2021.

In 2020, McClure wrapped up a term on the NCAA’s Board of Governors – the highest-governing body in collegiate athletics. She served as Vice Chair and, for a brief period, Interim Chair of the Board of Governors as the NCAA addressed the pandemic’s impact on competition and championships.

McClure’s historic athletic feats have certainly also earned her admiration in her hometown of Louisville. She is well-known as the first woman and first American to row a boat unassisted across the Atlantic Ocean, having done so in 1999. A decade earlier, she became the first woman and first American to ski to the South Pole as part of an expedition group.

In August 2021, a major stage musical titled, “ROW,” based on McClure’s life and memoir made its world premiere at the acclaimed Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. An audio version of the musical debuted in April on Audible.

Kris Kirchner reflects on his time at Spalding University as one of accomplishment, affirmation, service and personal growth.

The 2021 Spalding Creative Arts graduate and a three-year leader of the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) student organization said he is proud of how he has helped bring students together to find community and better understand LGBTQ issues.

Kirchner, who identifies as pansexual and transmasculine, said he also has been personally supported by Spalding faculty and staff and built meaningful friendships with classmates and others in the Louisville community.

“I was lucky to have so many friends, and the queer community, even outside of SAGA, is really amazing,” Kirchner said, adding that Spalding’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) center has supported him throughout his college journey. “Living on campus was great because I could kind of learn to be myself and have that space. I found a community of friends, and they helped me just let me be me.”

Kirchner said he has grown more confident in his art, including bringing more of himself and his identity into his work, as opposed to painting only exterior objects or scenes he observed in the world. His experience and emotions as a trans person were the subject of his senior thesis.

“It took me forever to get to a space where my interior thoughts were worthy of the gallery space,” he said, “and I got to create this work that I’m really happy about and that I really think is an interesting dialogue that people should hear about.”

CREATIVE ARTS  | BFA program overview

A mural that read "Change the World, Change One Mind" in the Spalding art studios
Kris Kirchner painted this mural in the hallway of the Creative Arts studio spaces in the south wing of Morrison Hall.

Kirchner served as the social media manager for SAGA. He made graphics and flyers and created the organization’s Instagram account – @SAGA_Spalding – as a way to raise its prominence and promote events. He also helped organize a SAGA informational event for any student on campus – including those who knew little about LGBTQ terminology or issues – in order to increase understanding and promote inclusiveness.

“I enjoyed being able to give back and create an environment where I made these cool friends,” Kirchner said. “SAGA allowed me to educate people. … I came from a town where not many people knew about LGBTQ issues, and I had to do all my own research. I was still learning when I came to college. Providing that (informational session) so that we could have better allies and have people understand (was rewarding).”

Kirchner’s involvement in SAGA led to him getting to know members of other Recognized Student Organizations across campus as well as non-Spalding organizations around Louisville. He said Spalding’s location in downtown Louisville made Pride and other LGBTQ events easily accessible.

SAGA was limited in its activity since spring 2020 due to the pandemic, but Kirchner encouraged underclassmen to step in to help organize events next school year when on-campus activities will be more prevalent. He said involvement in SAGA was an extremely valuable part of his college experience.

Kirchner was among the Creative Arts students who painted murals in the hallways of the student studio spaces in the south wing of Morrison Hall earlier this month. In Kirchner’s mural, the phrase “Change the world” is repeated over and over in black paint, with the phrase “Change one mind” written out in golden in the center.

He said changing the world by changing one mind at a time had been his goal with SAGA to increase understanding and acceptance.

“I hope I left a mark there,” he said.

While Juneteenth has been celebrated for generations, many Americans are still unfamiliar with its history and meaning. As a greater number of government entities, organizations and institutions officially observe Juneteenth this year – it became an official Spalding University holiday in 2020 – it’s an opportunity to understand its historical and modern-day significance.

Juneteenth, or June 19, is recognized as the day in 1865 when Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger informed the enslaved African American people of Galveston, Texas, that they were free, effectively ending slavery in the United States.  The Civil War had ended two months earlier, but slave owners in the Confederate territory of Texas had maintained the status quo until Granger’s arrival.

Spalding Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies Dr. Deonte Hollowell said that he would be speaking at a Juneteenth event in his hometown of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, on Saturday. At celebratory events like that, he said, it is important to have a historian/storyteller – known in African traditions as a griot – on hand to provide the attendees with the historical context of the occasion.

Spalding Professor Dr. Deonte Hollowell
Spalding School of Liberal Studies Professor Dr. Deonte Hollowell

“It’s a serious celebration,” Hollowell said. “It’s an opportunity to look back and recognize the struggles and achievements of Black people but also a chance to celebrate those accomplishments. Juneteenth should always be about a) educating yourself about those accomplishments, b) celebrating those accomplishments, c) trying to figure how to progress those accomplishments into equality for our people.

“You have to have the celebration and educational moments be a part of it. … (At a Juneteenth celebration), someone can say, ‘OK, what can we do now that we have all of these people here in one space? What can we do to get everyone on the same accord and address some of the issues we have?'”

Hollowell said White people should engage with and celebrate Juneteenth by educating themselves about the history surrounding the holiday and slavery, including acknowledging the role White people played. He said it’s an opportunity for White people to consider how they can support and racial equity, including helping educate or change the mind-sets of White relatives or friends.

Hollowell said that because the U.S. government failed to free all Black enslaved people at the same time in the 1860s, a situation has existed since then in which there has been no universally recognized day to celebrate Black emancipation.

Hollowell said he was unfamiliar with Juneteenth until he was a college student in an African American theatre class at the University of Louisville and participated in a series of Juneteenth plays.

Growing up, his family and community in Western Kentucky recognized the Eighth of August as the primary day to celebrate Black freedom.

He said important dates pertaining to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, are also considered appropriate days to celebrate.

“Even to this day, we find ourselves celebrating at different times,” he said. “That’s fine; I don’t have a problem with us celebrating our freedom (at any time), but it’s a little difficult when it’s not unified.”

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others in 2020 and national demonstrations in support of racial justice last summer led to a rise in prominence for Juneteenth, and President Biden signed a bill Friday, June 18, 2021, making Juneteenth a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

“Especially in this current racial climate, we really need to reflect and celebrate what it means to be Black,” Hollowell said. “And you can celebrate what it means to be Black even if you’re White. (For everyone to celebrate that is) what my hope is for Juneteenth.”

Juneteenth resources
*Juneteenth 2020 programming from PBS, including an episode of the documentary series from Henry Louis Gates, titled, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”
*Juneteenth 2021 programming from PBS
*Biden Signs Law Making Juneteenth Federal Holiday, from New York Times

For those interested in books related to race and antiracism, Spalding Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Steven Kniffley suggested these:

*Beyond Ally: The Pursuit of Racial Justice, Paperback, by Dr. Maysa Akbar
*Everyday White People Confront Racial and Social Injustice: 15 Stories, Paperback,  edited by Eddie Moore Jr., Marguerite W. Penick-Parks, Ali Michael
*How to Argue With a Racist: What Our Genes Do (and Don’t) Say About Human Difference, Hardcover,
by Adam Rutherford
*White Rage, Paperback, by Carol Anderson
*Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another, Audible Audiobook – Unabridged, by
Matt Taibbi
*White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Paperback,
by Robin DiAngelo
*Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, Audible Audiobook – Unabridged, by Layla F. Saad

Spalding University’s efforts to enhance its already strong commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion were bolstered recently with a $200,000 grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation.

Spalding’s grant will go toward the development of a comprehensive campus plan for diversity and inclusion initiatives and to support the work of the downtown private university’s recently created Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI).

Specifically, the James Graham Brown Foundation’s grant will support Spalding in conducting an independent campus climate survey to identify the university’s JEDI gaps, then operationalizing the survey’s findings in order to increase JEDI best practices across campus.

Spalding’s new Chief Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Dr. Steven Kniffley, serves in a broad role of working with administrators, faculty and staff in assessing and enhancing the university’s teaching, hiring and campus programs through a diversity and inclusion lens. He also serves as a point person for Spalding in developing community partnerships related to diversity and inclusion.

A version of the position now filled by Kniffley has existed at Spalding for years, but in 2021, it was renamed, expanded and elevated to inclusion on President Tori Murden McClure’s senior leadership cabinet.

RELATED | Kniffley named Chief Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Officer  | Kniffley named 2021 Health Care Hero

“I am grateful and humbled by the James Graham Brown Foundation’s willingness to invest in Spalding University’s commitment to creating a culture of inclusion for students, faculty, staff and the greater community,” said Kniffley, a clinical psychologist who is a professor and scholar on matters of race and racial trauma. “This investment will allow Spalding to expand its capacity to (1) support faculty in the use of culturally responsive teaching practices, (2) create programming and policies that affirm the intersecting identities of Spalding staff, and (3) develop initiatives that will foster the ‘whole’ student and promote a community of diverse learners committed to social change.”

The James Graham Brown Foundation recently awarded a total of $7.185 million in grants to nine Kentucky organizations, including Spalding and three other universities, to support the foundation’s strategic focus area of education and workforce.

JGBF has also supported Spalding’s justice and equity work in the past, having contributed a $500,000 matching grant in 2015 for the development of educational programs focused on restorative justice.

“The foundation’s postsecondary funding prioritizes programs focused on achieving equitable student outcomes because we believe that equitable educational attainment will increase economic and social mobility for Kentuckians,” said Mason Rummel, President and CEO of the James Graham Brown Foundation. “Fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging on campuses is critical to student success, and we support Spalding’s efforts to identify ways to do just that.”

In recent years, Spalding has developed and implemented the following programs and initiatives that align with the university’s mission and are designed to advance justice, equity, diversity and inclusion on campus and beyond:

Spalding University Chief Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Steven Kniffley, a faculty member in the School of Professional Psychology and the leader of Spalding’s Collective Care Center behavioral health specialty clinic for racial trauma, was recently honored by Louisville Business First as a 2021 Health Care Hero.

Dr. Kniffley, a clinical psychologist, was honored in the category of Health Equity Champion following a year in which he helped Collective Care Center fill a key role as the only behavioral health clinic in Louisville to specialize in treating race-based trauma and stress. The Collective Care Center is a division of Spalding’s Center for Behavioral Health, which is a training clinic for clinical psychology doctoral (PsyD) students in the School of Professional Psychology.

Kniffley is a scholar and frequent public speaker on matters of race and racial trauma and has given dozens of presentations, interviews and seminars on those topics.

Dr. Kniffley, who is a graduate of the Spalding PsyD that he now teaches in, was also recognized last year as a member of Louisville Business First’s Forty Under 40 list of outstanding young professionals in Louisville and received a MediStar Award from the Medical News for his work in treating and raising awareness for racial trauma.

He was appointed to the role of Chief Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer in December. A member of President Tori Murden McClure’s senior leadership cabinet – known as the Operational Council – Kniffley plays a broad role in promoting diversity and inclusion in programs across campus. He is also the President-Elect of the Kentucky Psychological Association.

A list of all 2021 Louisville Business First Health Care Heroes can be found here (subscription link), and the honorees will profiled in the April 9 issue of the publication.

Spalding University has named School of Professional Psychology faculty member Dr. Steven Kniffley – an innovative therapist and researcher on matters of race and racial trauma – as the university’s Chief Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

Kniffley is a clinical psychologist who is distinguished as the leader of Spalding’s Collective Care Center – one of the nation’s only behavioral health clinics to specialize in treating race-based trauma and stress. Since 2018, he has served as Associate Director of Spalding’s Center for Behavioral Health training clinic, of which the Collective Care Center is a specialty division.

Beginning in January, in his new role as Chief Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Kniffley will be a member of President Tori Murden McClure’s senior leadership team – known as the Operational Council – and will take on a broad role across campus in promoting best practices and developing initiatives that advance diversity as a critical component of social, academic and intellectual life at Spalding.

Working out of the President’s Office, Kniffley will support Spalding’s mission to be a “diverse community of learners dedicated to meeting the needs of the times” while promoting peace and justice. He will actively engage students, faculty and staff to further behaviors, attitudes and policies that support diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition, he will also represent Spalding in the community on matters of diversity and inclusion and serve as a point person in developing partnerships related to those issues.

“Dr. Steven Kniffley is a rising star on the faculty at Spalding and is a perfect choice to become our Chief Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” McClure said. “Through his work in the Collective Care Center as well as through his teaching and scholarly work, he has demonstrated a deep understanding of issues of race and inequity in society. Moreover, through his public speaking and service work, he has demonstrated a passion and skill for raising awareness and turning conversations toward the need to promote justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and cultural competence. On a range of day-to-day and long-term issues at Spalding, our students, faculty and staff will be well-served by hearing his ideas and advice.

McClure continued: “For decades, Spalding has been committed to the promotion of social justice in downtown Louisville, and throughout my term as President, adding diverse voices to our university leadership and continuing to advance our diversity and inclusion efforts have been a priority of mine. Elevating Dr. Kniffley to this role is another step in showing that commitment while expanding Spalding’s history of promoting diversity and inclusion. During a year in which the attention of our city and our nation has focused sharply on justice and equity, there has never been a more important time to emphasize that commitment.”

Kniffley will remain on the Spalding faculty in the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology program and continue his role at the Collective Care Center.

“I am excited and grateful for the opportunity to lead Spalding University’s justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts,” Kniffley said. “As chief diversity officer, I will work to enhance Spalding’s impact as an anti-oppression institution through meaningful policy, results-oriented programming, and capacity building through the development of community partnerships.”

Off campus, Kniffley serves as a research consultant for the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Synergy Project, which aims to improve relations between residents and the police. He is also a member of the City of Louisville’s Citizens Commission on Police Accountability.

He was recently voted the President-Elect of the Kentucky Psychological Association.

In addition to publishing numerous scholarly articles and book chapters, Kniffley co-authored the book Out of K.O.S. (Knowledge of Self): Black Masculinity, Psychopathology, and Treatment, and he co-edited the book Black Males and the Criminal Justice System.

Kniffley has given dozens of public and professional seminars and presentations, including a 2019 lecture series for the Louisville Free Public Library titled Mental Health and the Black Community.

Earlier this year, Kniffley was named to Louisville Business First’s Forty Under 40, honoring outstanding and service-minded young professionals in Louisville, and this month he was honored by IGE Media and the Medical News as the recipient of the 2020 MediStar Healthcare Advocacy Award for advocating for increasing culturally competent care for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) individuals, and for more education, training and service provision for the experience of racial trauma.

In 2018, he received an award for multicultural professional development from the Kentucky Psychological Association.

Kniffley is a graduate of the Spalding PsyD program. He also holds a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit leadership from Wright State University and a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Louisville.

Kniffley did a post-doctoral fellowship in child and adolescent acute services with Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts. Before joining Spalding’s faculty, he was on the faculty at Wright State from 2014-18.