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Interview with SDI Consultant Anitra Cottledge

Interview: Anitra Cottledge

March 6, 2024

SDI Consultant and nationally recognized writer, Stephanie Chrismon, sat down with Anitra Cottledge to discuss her journey in the world of DEIA and justice work. Read on to learn more about more about one of SDI’s esteemed consultants, what comprises her passion and identities, as well as her favorite food.

I have spent the last six years as the Director of the Women’s Center at the Twin Cities, a role that has culminated my aspirations since my graduate school application. The dream job stemmed from my volunteer experience at the Women’s Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I was first exposed to discussions about feminism among women and femme-identifying individuals. This experience ignited my passion, viewed through a gender equity and Black feminist lens. (Update: Anitra has moved on to a new role as the Director of Programs, Headwaters Foundation for Justice)

My identities as a Black, cisgender, queer woman has significantly influenced my work. Through various feminist and gender equity experiences, I observed a need for more inclusive conversations, particularly recognizing the absence of BIPOC women in these discussions. My perspective is shaped by an intersectional lens, considering factors such as ability/disability justice and class within the realm of DEIA.

My journey into DEIA work began at the Women’s Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and professionally, it took root during my first job at the Minority Student Program at the University of Minnesota Morris (UMM). While many find their entry point in working with students, my fascination lies in building systems that are accessible and equitable in higher education. This passion has guided my academic pursuits, culminating in a master’s degree in higher education and two decades of experience in DEIA.

In the dynamic landscape of higher education, navigating systems remains a perpetual challenge. The inherent clunkiness and invisibility of these systems pose difficulties. The environment, often characterized by elitism and hierarchy, makes naming power a critical aspect of DEIA work. An overemphasis on quantifiable outcomes can come at the expense of relational building; forgetting that culture is just as important as a strategy can be costly. Furthermore, DEIA professionals and initiatives exist in precarious environments and face potential opposition and erasure in some states. Lastly, adding the impact of national and global events to this mix presents another layer of complexity.

DEIA work is most powerful when there is collective evolution when diverse groups work in solidarity. Unexpected wisdom and experiences emerge, bringing a futurist perspective to the work. In envisioning the future of DEIA work, my hope is for individuals to discover how they can each uniquely contribute to the broader social justice movement. Acknowledging diverse expertise and adopting an all-hands-on-deck philosophy is crucial.

A surprising aspect about me is my fascination with grief and grief work. Rooted in personal experiences of loss and a broader societal context, I am intrigued by the impact of unaddressed grief on DEIA work. The aspiration to become a grief doula in the future reflects a personal commitment to addressing this often-overlooked aspect of our collective experience.

Fun Questions:

Favorite and Least Favorite Word

Favorite: I love the word “Palindrome” because of its meaning and how it sounds.

Least Favorite: I don’t harbor a specific aversion to any particular word.

Sounds

Love: The sound of violins and string instruments.

Hate: Sudden loud and jarring sounds.

Favorite Food

German Chocolate Cake

Best and Worst Characteristic

Best: My curiosity and dedication to learning.

Worst: Being an overachiever and overthinker-in-recovery.

Qualities in a Friend

Good sense of humor and ability to laugh; loyalty; authenticity; commitment to personal growth.

Favorite Quote

Embracing the wisdom of Audre Lorde: “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”