In our nation and world, we find our collective well-being, our democracies and our ideals threatened as white supremacy, systemic racism, striving for power, and fascist tactics converge. The first two of these have long been partners. White supremacy shaped the public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and norms through which systemic racism operates; systemic racism now both perpetuates itself and continuously reinforces white supremacy. Together, they inevitably and relentlessly cause suffering and death for people of color. The public murders of the last year are large in our awareness, but equally horrific is the fact that systemic racism is killing great numbers of people of color every day. Too many are criminalized and incarcerated; too many are deprived of access to the resources they need to live healthy and long lives; and too many have their dreams squashed.
Adding to these crises, our recent political history has resurfaced a dangerous lesson, that is, that fascist strategies and tactics can be effective routes to power. Prominent among these tactics is to construct and denigrate a group or groups as “other,” to paint these others as threats, and to dehumanize them so as to justify exploitation, restriction of movement, mass imprisonment, expulsion, and violence. While striving for power is common to human beings, what has become starkly plain is that even in democracies, some political segments will embrace fascist tactics in order to gain power, attracting the enthusiastic support of tens of millions of people. What has also become plain is that even people who condemn such tactics can become desensitized to them to the point of de facto acceptance.
“White Supremacy, Systemic Racism, Fascism and Power: An Experiential Learning Event” will be conducted in the Group Relations tradition. As such, it will not feature experts delivering slide presentations to relatively passive learners. Instead, it will be an opportunity to grapple with its title themes in the context of a temporary organization that participants and staff will co-create. Within that organization, we will explore together our here-and-now experience of engaging with each other across various roles within a living system. Focused at the level of the group, we will pay attention to what is happening at both the conscious and unconscious levels. We will pay particular attention to manifestations of the title themes in our temporary organization as a whole and in its parts, and to connections between the title themes and issues of leadership, authorization and representation. We will explore our very human needs, wishes and fears, both rational and irrational, in ways that may connect these to white supremacy, systemic racism, fascism and power. We will not work with these themes “out there,” but rather “in here” within the groups we form during the event.
Over the course of a four-day event, we cannot solve, cure or end white supremacy, systemic racism, fascism or the misuse of power. What we can do is engage in intense experiential learning that may help us grow our understanding and expand our options for action. What we can do is take one more step on a path leading to justice. We invite you to join us on this journey.
This is a different kind of online conference, one in which learning will be primarily through experience. Within a structure provided, participants will co-create a temporary organization and culture, engage with each other in that living system, and continuously reflect on the collective and individual experiences they are having.
Using their experiences, participants will seek to better understand both conscious and unconscious systemic processes encountered in the exercise of power, leadership, authority and representation, with particular attention to the ways in which these processes connect to white supremacy, systemic racism and fascism. By focusing on both conscious and unconscious processes, participants will learn to better see and hear both what is above the surface and what is beneath it. Participants may find themselves developing new narratives and testing new ways of increasing group and individual effectiveness.
Opportunities for Learning
In this conference, participants will have opportunities to:
Recognize the experience and dynamics of white supremacy, systemic racism, fascism and power in an organization.
Learn about both covert and overt group processes through participating in groups that vary in size, structure, and task.
Identify underlying patterns of group interaction by forming groups, establishing leadership structures, and relating with other groups and the institution as a whole.
Explore how we collectively and individually take up roles, negotiate authority, accomplish tasks, cross borders, and manage anxiety in a changing context.
Examine the fluidity of power and authority; the way power, roles, identities, tasks, and boundaries might shift or become more rigid in response to an emergent context.
Understand the difference between the stated task of a group and the task it actually appears to be pursuing.
Recognize collective and personal reactions to well-defined authority and clearly delineated boundaries.
Learn how varied aspects and perceptions of individual identity such as race, class, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and education level are used by groups with and without the conscious awareness of the individuals involved.
Discover aspects of group life that create vitality and goal fulfillment and those which lead to resistance, complacency, inertia, and decline.
Work with competition, collaboration, conflict, coalition-building, envy, delegation, and love.
Understand the relatedness of self and system, and the relatedness of part and whole.
Experiment with familiar and unfamiliar roles and with various social behaviors including isolation, autonomy, affiliation, collaboration, and coalition building.
Deepen awareness of one’s own capacity and responsibility to lead or advocate in home organizations and social contexts no matter what one’s formal authority roles.
Apply what has been learned and experienced to choices in back-home community, organizational and social contexts.
The primary task of this conference is to study conscious and unconscious dynamics arising in the exercise of power, leadership and authority—and the relatedness of these dynamics to white supremacy, systemic racism and fascism—as they unfold in the here-and-now through the taking up of roles in a temporary system.
The purpose of this conference is to create opportunities for all participants to gain a better understanding of factors that influence our choices and behavior in groups—especially as connected to white supremacy, systemic racism, fascism and power—and thus increase our capacity to exercise effective leadership in the transformation of our communities, organizations and groups.
In general, a Group Relations conference offers participants a combination of “here-and-now” events and reflective events. In the “here-and-now” events, participants study what is going on in the moment, paying particular attention to unconscious dynamics and looking at the group-as-a-whole, rather than simply intrapersonal or interpersonal dynamics. In the reflective events, participants are invited to reflect on, make meaning of, and apply their experiences.
The descriptions below provide more detail about various events.
Small Study Groups
Each participant is assigned to a Small Study Group consisting of about 8-10 participants and 1-2 consultants. The task of the Small Study Group is to study the exercise of power, leadership and authority as it unfolds in the here-and-now, and the relatedness of what unfolds to white supremacy, systemic racism and fascism. The Small Study Group is a setting that allows face-to-face interchange.
Large Study GroupThe Large Study Group is composed of all conference participants and typically has 2-4 consultants. The task of the Large Study Group is the same as that of the Small Study Group, but in a setting that makes face-to-face interaction difficult or impossible. As such, it highlights dynamics that may occur in communities and large organizations or gatherings, where personal interactions are limited.
Emerging Possibilities Event
In this event, participants form their own groups. The groups are asked to interact with other groups including the staff group. Participants and staff examine the system of this event as it evolves and unfolds, including its relatedness to the larger conference system. Staff provides consultation to the groups upon request.
Social Sensing Matrix
The social sensing matrix provides a space for all participants and staff to share dreams, thoughts, connections, and associations that arise in the moment. This is based on the assumption that the group unconscious can manifest in the dreams and associations of individuals and that exploring them together can help to better understand the group-as-a-whole.
Participants are assigned to a group of 5-6 people and a consultant. The Review Group provides members with the opportunity to review their experiences in the conference to that point and consider what and how they are learning. Participants will have an opportunity to explore connections between their experiences in the conference and their experiences in communities, organizations and groups in the outside world.
In this event, participants and staff have an opportunity to collaborate in reviewing and analyzing their experiences in the conference as a whole. Throughout the conference, participants and staff may have taken up several roles and experienced many kinds of relationships with each other. The Conference Discussion is an opportunity to recognize and discuss feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, and to perhaps discover patterns of action or deeper levels of significance with implications and applications to our outside communities and organizations.
Staff manage the conference as a whole and take up consulting roles during its various parts. As managers, staff manage the conditions of the conference, particularly in relation to time, task, and territory. As consultants, staff offer working hypotheses and reflections that explore the conscious and unconscious aspects of organizational and system behavior as it emerges, focusing on group level dynamics rather than on the individual.
Staff do not manage the participants or their behavior. Instead, participants are free to engage in the primary task and purpose as they choose and as they authorize themselves and each other to do.
The staff for the conference is listed below but may include others not listed here. A final list of staff will be provided prior to the start of the conference.
David Luna, JD (he, him), Owner, Luna Consulting & Coaching; Member, Washington-Baltimore Center for the Study of Group Relations; Co-Creator, Group Relations International; Certified Consultant, AKRI; Member, National Lawyers Guild; Past-President, National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives.
Conference Associate Director
Kimberley A. Turner, PhD, MDiv (she, her), Member and Past President, Washington-
Baltimore Center for the Study of Group Relations; Associate, AKRI; Mentor, Training and
Certification Program, AKRI; OD Consultant, Executive Coach; Associate Minister, Metropolitan Baptist Church; Member, NAACP.
Director of Administration and Technology
John Weng, MA (he, him), Assistant Director, Associated Students Administration, UC San Diego; Adjunct Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate, Department of Leadership Studies, University of San Diego; Co-Creator, Group Relations International; Member, A.K. Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems; Member, International Leadership Association.
Rebecca Abell, PsyD, CGP (she, her), Clinical Psychologist, Certified Group Psychotherapist, Washington Hospital Center; Member, W-BC; Co-Creator, Group Relations International; Certified Consultant, A.K. Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems; President-Elect, CSGSS
Diana Casteneda, LCPC (she/her), Director of Youth and Crisis Services, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago; Member, Chicago Center for the Study of Groups and Organizations; Member, Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis
Cathy Chen, CPCC, MA (she, her), Principal, Capriole Consulting; Leadership Coach, Sounding Board; Program Manager, Google; Board Member, Grex Organization for the Study of Authority, Leadership & Group Dynamics; Member, CSGSS; Certified Consultant, AKRI; Registered Yoga Teacher, Yoga Alliance
Joshua DeSilva, Psy.D., CGP (he, him), Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Private Practice; Member and Consultant in Training, AKRI; Member, Virginia Latino Advisory Board; Member, Diversity Committee, Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychologists
Rebecca Ellison, MA (she/her), Director of the Youth, Gender, and Vulnerability Policy Lab at Africa Center for Strategic Progress, Co-Founder of Taretok Child Prosperity, education researcher, Certified Group Relations Consultant and Member- A.K Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems (AKRI), Member of Washington-Baltimore Center for Group Relations (WBC).
Omowale Elson, PhD (him, he, his), Elson Consulting Group, Vice President; Group Relations International, Co-Creator; Baltimore Ethical Society, Board Member; AKRI, former Board Member; Washington-Baltimore Center for the Study of Group Relations, former President; and Montgomery College, Adjunct Professor, Communication; University of Maryland Global Campus, Adjunct Professor, Management & Leadership.
Yaro Fong-Olivares, MS (she/her), Director, Corporate Education, Bentley University; Organizational Development with a focus on racial justice, equity, and inclusion; President, Executive Committee, New York Center; Member, Center for the Study of Groups and Social Systems; Co-Creator, Group Relations International; Consultant-in-training, AK Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems.
Tyrome Smith, MA (he, him), Internal Board Member, AKRI; Member, Washington-Baltimore Center for the Study of Group Relations; Certified Consultant, A.K. Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems; Strategic Innovation Consultant.
Michael Speer, PhD (he, his), Independent consultant and coach offering learning opportunities in leadership and group and organizational dynamics; member and past president, Washington-Baltimore Center for the Study of Group Relations; coach, Coaches4Causes; former board member, AKRI; memoirist; former leadership professor, University of Maryland and Burns Academy of Leadership.
Joanne Bowman (she/her), Organizational Development and HR Thought-leader; Leadership Coach and Consultant; Group and Interpersonal Dynamics Facilitator; BA Communications and Disorders, Montclair State University; MA Change Management and Org Psych, Teachers College, Columbia University; Functional Fitness Athlete and Health/Wellness Enthusiast.
Charles Newnam (he, him), Leadership, Culture and Human Performance Practitioner, Management Consulting Executive; Founder, VEL Institute 501 (c))3); US Navy Submarine Warfare Officer, Veteran; Tennessee Tech, BS, Electrical Engineering; Kenan-Flagler Business School, MBA; Teachers College, Columbia University, MA, Organizational Psychology, Endurance athlete
Troi Ratchford* (she, her), Content Publicity Assistant; Morgan State University, BS, Strategic Communication; Past-President, Public Relations Student Society of America, MSU Chapter.
*Troi Ratchford is serving in a pre-conference capacity and will not be present for the actual conference.
Who’s the event for?
Anyone wanting an opportunity to learn through immediate and direct experience about group dynamics and influence and about overt and covert actions involved in the exercise of power, leadership and authority, particularly as these connect to white supremacy, systemic racism, fascism and power. No particular background or experience is necessary to participate. People from a wide variety of fields, organizations and industries have participated in Group Relations conferences.
Accepted participants should plan to attend and participate in all components of the conference, as it is designed to be an integrated experience, with each component building on the previous.
Fees can only be refunded (less $50 administration charge) if a written notice of cancellation (via email) is received by 6 PM Eastern on May 1st, 2021.
Staff will not report the behavior of any individual member to anyone outside the conference.
The conference is an educational endeavor and does not provide psychotherapy or counseling. Although the experiential learning available can be stimulating and enriching, it can also be emotionally stressful. Thus, applicants who are ill or experiencing significant personal difficulties should forgo participating at this time.
*Group rates are for 3 or more participants coming from the same organization. Each participant from a group should submit their own application and include one another's names in “close associates” question on the application.
For those experiencing financial difficulty, partial scholarships may be considered on a case by case basis. Those interested in this option should complete the online application and contact the Administration Team using the conference email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are two articles that will help orient you to Group Relations concepts and methods. Once your application is accepted, we will send you additional pre-readings.
Recommended readings for all participants:
Hayden, C. & Molenkamp, R. Tavistock primer II. In Cytrynbaum, S. and Noumair, D. (Eds.), Group relations reader 3. Jupiter, FL: The A.K. Rice Institute.
Monroe, T. (2003). Key concepts that inform group relations work. San Diego, CA: The Leadership Institute
In addition, because fascism is too often used as a buzz term without much real meaning, we strongly recommend that you read:
Stanley, J. (2018). How fascism works: the politics of us and them. New York, NY: Random House