UNC MPA Student Elisabeth Butler utilizes DEI theory in her summer work with RACE for Equity

This post was written by UNC MPA current student Elisabeth Butler.
My name is Elisabeth Butler, I am from Charlotte, NC, and I studied environmental science at UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad. In undergrad, I gravitated toward urban planning, and I was particularly interested in transportation and sustainability. However, after taking a couple of planning classes, I wasn’t quite sure if it was the right fit for me. Later on, I learned more about local government, and I decided that the more general Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree better suited my interests than a Master of Urban Planning.

I still decided to work for a year because I wanted to have some time and space to think before I jumped right into graduate school. During the gap year, I discovered that an MPA degree was critical to my entry into local government and overall very helpful to getting a job in the public sector, so I decided to apply for graduate school. I ended up selecting the MPA program at UNC Chapel Hill because I was already familiar with the quality of education provided by the university, and I was impressed by the network of alumni and connections the program had in North Carolina. I am also particularly interested in community engagement, and the program had a variety of courses that would allow me to further explore this particular area of interest.

For my Professional Work Experience (PWE), I am working for a consulting company called RACE for Equity, LLC. The company’s name, RACE for Equity, stands for Results Achieved through Community Engagement for Equity. I decided to conduct my PWE with RACE for Equity because I would like to work in community engagement in the near future. I was also intrigued by the company’s focus on using an equity lens to approach community engagement. I am still fairly new to the world of community engagement, given that my background is in environmental science, so RACE for Equity seemed like a great way to gain experience in my field of interest.

RACE for Equity is a fairly small and completely remote company, so I have been spending a fair amount of time in Zoom meetings and corresponding with my teammates via email. The company’s unique selling point is that it specializes in Results-Based Accountability (RBA), a framework based on data-driven practices. In my mind, RBA attempts to combine systems thinking and performance measurement into one framework. I see the value of RBA, but I have yet to be convinced that this loosely described framework should be considered a best practice in the consulting world.

In addition to the RBA framework, RACE for Equity uses the Groundwater Approach as a foundational theory of practice. The groundwater metaphor is designed to help people internalize and gain awareness of the racially structured society we currently live in. I found the groundwater metaphor as a very helpful and easy to understand metaphor in terms of how racially created structures leads to inequities and injustices along racial divides. I see how the systems thinking component of the RBA framework connects to the groundwater metaphor, but I sometimes wonder if the RBA model is sufficient. I wonder, how do you know if you are truly transforming the groundwater?

So far, I have enjoyed my work at RACE for Equity. I have been assigned to four projects to work on this summer. The first project involves collecting documentation, the second project is about storytelling for maternal health equity, the third project involves expanding upon past training materials, and the fourth project is researching different workspace platforms for the company. I have started working on the first and fourth project and will begin working on the second and third project in June. The RACE for Equity members have been very friendly and welcoming, but the one drawback is that I do not particularly enjoy the completely remote aspect of the job. Overall, I think RACE for Equity is doing good work, and I look forward to learning more about the company as I continue this PWE throughout the rest of this summer.

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