What is the IARAO Commission at UUSM?

Sunrise circle of hands

The commission’s acronym, IARAO, stands for Intersectional, Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression. In 2019, the UUSM Board and our Developmental Minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Lal Shahbaz Kalendae, recognized that our congregation needed to address its systemic prejudices and biases through a process of reflection and growth. This recognition complemented the results of a survey question asked at General Assembly in 2019 by the Commission on Institutional Change: How important is anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural (ARAOMC) work to the future of Unitarian Universalism? (Commission Survey Reveals Strong Support for Antiracism Work by Elaine McArdle, 9/25/2019)

In the summer of 2020, two of our members independently went to our minister asking how UUSM could address the disease of racism affecting us all. These two members, along with Rev. Jeremiah, formed the beginning of an IARAO committee, later to become a commission of the Board. An early charter was formulated, and by late-2020/early-2021 the commission embraced the mission to address these systems of prejudice and bias, within and beyond our congregation, through intersectional lenses and toward the creation of a more just and sustainable community for all.

The IARAO Commission members are Rev. Jeremiah, Dr. Susan Hendricks, Nalani Santiago, James Witker, Linda van Ligten, Mike Monte, and Amy Brunell. During the past two years, we have been contemplating what the charge of this commission means to us as individuals, and the effect that contemplative work on intersectional antiracism and anti-oppression can have, and will have, on the life of our congregation, long-term. This process has not always been easy. Only this past November 2022, did we come to consensus regarding how this introspective work can be framed in our congregation around Widening the Circle of Concern, Beloved Conversations, and the 8th Principle.

Widening the Circle of Concern (2020) is a report of the UUA Commission on Institutional Change analyzing structural and systemic racism and white supremacy culture within Unitarian Universalism, making recommendations to advance long-term change. Beloved Conversations is a program for people seeking to embody racial justice as a spiritual practice. The 8th Principle is a grassroots movement started in 2013, aimed at articulating an agreement to dismantle racism and other forms of oppression within the covenants made between and within the member congregations of the UUA.

Framing the work of IARAO within these tenets has provided us with a roadmap that can move all of us meaningfully forward as a UU community of individuals who recognize the importance of this self-contemplative work and the impact it can have in our institution as a beloved community. As a faith community, we are and have been called to reckon with the systemic dis-ease within our congregation. IARAO believes we all must commit through our shared values to dismantling institutional racism and oppression.