Like so many institutions, AFSC and its managers don’t seem to cotton to outside media examination. Plaudits, bouquets, puff pieces for their pet programs? Yes. They especially like mentions that AFSC won the Nobel Peace Prize.
But questions, challenges, notes that the Nobel came in 1947, which was three generations ago, and everybody connected with the work that earned it (and most of the work itself) are long since dead and gone; such non-breathless scrutiny, hmm, not so much.
So it’s no surprise that the latest missive to AFSC staff –this one on Friday February 17, and actually acknowledged as from General Secretary Joyce Aljouny — in the wake of the Raquel Saraswati/ DEI “situation,” centers on a directive to shut down, in particular, any contact with news media.
As you see below however, not everyone is in full compliance. And there’s more to the memo. Here’s the complete text, followed by some parsing of the hints as to other matters sprinkled between the lines:
Parsing: Excerpts from the Memo text are in bold red. Comments in regular type:
Aljouny: “I want to assure you that I will keep you updated as this situation unfolds. This is a complicated situation, and we want to work on this in a thoughtful and humane way, taking in many perspectives.”
Comments: This strongly suggests that, despite the statement from the “Leadership Team” (LT) posted here yesterday, Saraswati’s status as DEI Director is still current, but not assured; it is “unfolding,” and the LT is “working on it.” Yet the stated desire to deal with it by “taking in many perspectives” does not appear to extend to those of say, uninvited “outsiders” like the investigative reporters at The Intercept.
Last week they published a report on AFSC that raised very probing questions that went beyond the narrow issue of whether Saraswati had deceived AFSC about her previous identity and work, to question the whole corporate (including nonprofit ) DEI industry. The Intercept quoted Sana Saeed, a media critic at Al Jazeera on this:
Saeed told The Intercept in an email that the Saraswati controversy is an indictment of the diversity, equity, and inclusion industry’s shortcomings and “puts a sharp, bright light on … the DEI industry itself — did AFSC not vet their candidates, like Raquel?”
She added, “There’s long been a critique that companies & organizations use DEI as a shield against criticism of structural issues that continue to persist in the workplace; the people often hired in these positions are not qualified and will usually hurt, more than help, in redressing problems around inequities and exclusion. For the AFSC — known for its progressive values and history — to have hired such an individual is also a damning indictment of how superficial and detrimental, to safe and inclusive workplaces, DEI can often be.”
Personally, I don’t endorse Saaed’s view on Saraswati herself (that’s still “unfolding”). But I think Saeed is on point that the “situation” involves more than the fate of one staff person. Is it a signal that AFSC needs to re-examine the whole elaborate internal DEI edifice that has been created there over many years there? Personally I think so.
Aljouny: I want to express in no uncertain terms my deep concern that the allegations were aired in a public manner. We have thoughtful policies and procedures in place for all members of our community to internally and safely express and process their concerns.
Comments: But evidently, there are some (many?) in AFSC who lack confidence in these “thoughtful policies and procedures,” or their “safety.” This unease and distrust is not a new phenomenon; this blog has reported on it several times, long before we ever heard of Saraswati.
Aljouny: We want to keep the trust and respect that the organization has earned with our communities. To do that, please help us protect the organization’s reputation by not speaking about this matter to the news media.
Comments: For at least half a century, AFSC has almost completely insulated itself against uninvited outside input. Included in the “outside” is the Religious Society of Friends, which spawned and nurtured it. Thus their “leadership teams” and many staff have succeeded in avoiding facing up to the fact that the “trust and respect” for AFSC in much of their foundational “community,” aka Quakers, has shriveled into insignificance.
This deep erosion also shows up in concrete numbers: the 21st Century has not been kind to the organization. It was not so long ago that AFSC supported more than a dozen regional offices; at last count, it was down to four. More than half the staff was laid off after the crashes of the early Obama years.
In groups undergoing such shrinkage, internal strife, on the model of a dead-serious “game” of musical “chairs,” with job cuts subbing for the chairs whisked away, is predictable, and AFSC was not spared.
And such tensions and issues also draw attention from outside, at least occasionally. In the past year, increasing critical attention has been focusing on the DEI industry.
I’m not referring here to the “stop woke” campaigns of rightwing culture warrior politicians. But rather to scholars and HR professionals who are sincerely dedicated to DEI aspirations, and are now grappling with mounting research and feedback showing that too many such efforts are either futile or, worse, counterproductive.
It’s like they’ve been told to battle a pandemic, but most of the “vaccines” available too often turn out to be horse pills or hydrochloroquine — patent medicines that don’t work.
In the past decade many Quaker meetings and organizations have become deeply involved in often very expensive DEI-related programming, with not much better results. It’s way past time, for those committed to promoting authentic progress for justice and equality, to do some serious quality control evaluation and recalibration. From all I’ve seen, AFSC doesn’t acknowledge this.
Fortunately, outside reporting on such incidents as the Saraswati matter bring unbidden opportunities for “taking in many (new) perspectives”, and can be a crucial spur to the overdue review and reconstruction of DEI-related efforts.
Too many executives rarely want to hear such “bad” news. But contrary to the memo’s querulous reaction, The Intercept and this blog have done them a big favor.
Joyce Aljouny & AFSC, keep us posted; and you’re welcome anyway.