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Saturday, June 10 • 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Shifting Perspectives and Bridging Differences: VTS through a Social Justice Lens

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“What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?” These three questions form the basis of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a facilitation method that fosters collaborative, inclusive, and community-building dialogue.

VTS uses visual art as the vehicle to facilitate conversations on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); participants learn to explore their implicit and explicit thinking patterns formed from their lived experiences as independent individuals operating within a larger sociopolitical system. It allows participants to contextualize their own identities, their experiences, and their thought processes so as to recognize their cognitive schemas by connecting the dots between what they see, why they see it, and why someone else may see differently. With art as the vehicle, participants find a low-risk, stress-free, non-work related way to explore a methodical approach to problem-solving: silent, reflective looking; establishing a baseline; facilitating verbal dialogue; providing evidence for assertions; validating contributions; and thinking reiteratively.

Using a social justice lens with VTS allows people to consider systemic issues and internal biases in ways that evade the natural defensiveness that arises when considering innate power, privilege, and identity. Consider a time-strapped healthcare worker needing to make an assessment on an immigrant patient with a different cultural background. The patient may refuse the recommended treatment for personal, cultural, or religious beliefs leading the provider to become frustrated at the patient’s seemingly non-compliant response. However, with the provider’s capacity to contextualize the sociopolitical dynamics of the encounter, the provider can now understand that this patient’s “noncompliance” is rooted in a different perspective. The provider is then able to pivot the conversation accordingly. This is applying VTS in real life - seeing, listening, understanding, and reaching the capacity to acknowledge multiple truths.

More specifically, conducting VTS conversations through a social justice and equity lens provides a framework for understanding the cumulative impact of systemic, institutional, and individual factors on one’s lived experiences and transferring that understanding into actionable approaches that address differences, disparities, and inequities in outcomes. In different settings, practicing this framework establishes a foundation that guides collaborative and impact-driven work around DEIB.

In an increasingly visual environment and the expanding social media presence in our daily lives, we are forced to see more: more movies, more pictures, more news, more information. In her book, Visual Culture, Alexis L. Boylan reminds us that “we are forced to see more, yet given fewer tools and less time to think about seeing.” When considering even broader applications to VTS, its use and sheer necessity for all adults becomes clear. Should the benefits of continuous exposure to VTS be limited to healthcare workers? Absolutely not. What profession would not benefit from its workers possessing greater communication and observation skills, more creativity, better problem-solving skills, and more empathy and tolerance? VTS equips participants with the tools to critically think and engage with their visual worlds.

During VTS discussions, participants receive the associated perspective sharing and capacity building for effective communication that comes from viewing art. The beauty of this approach lies in the added benefits that happen naturally: improved observation skills, improved communication skills, strengthened team dynamic, greater comfort with ambiguity, greater consideration of multiple perspectives, better listening skills, and improved visual assessment skills (i.e. “reading” the audience or room).

This workshop provides highly participatory, inclusive, and reflective experiences that prepare participants to grow their work in bridging the Tufts community. Over time, this level of deep thought and critical thinking informs participants’ understanding of their work, challenges them to consider ways to improve, and empowers a visual curiosity that leads to a heightened sense of empathy and a larger capacity to hold difficult conversations around power, privilege, and personal identities.

After participating in this program, participants will learn how to:
1) explore and consider how their social identities influence how they see the world.
2) provide a VTS-based effective framework for constructive and respectful conversations.
3) create an open space for perspective sharing through practice and modeling.
Erin and Walae found each other through a mutual connection and bonded over their mutual passion for arts-in-healthcare, DEIB, and community engagement. Together, their work utilizes the power of art to transform the way we experience ourselves and each other as we all strive for a more just society.

Walae Hayek (she/they), founder and president of ROYA, is a first generation Arab American and Boston native who is passionate about building and bridging community and creating welcoming spaces. As a public health professional with extensive experience in academia, healthcare, and philanthropy, Walae practices a social justice and equity framework in all of their work. In 2020, Walae founded ROYA, a nonprofit organization, dedicated to building creative community for social advocacy through bridging the arts with public health to Educate, Advocate, and Empower. In addition to leading ROYA, Walae works in state-level health policy focusing on equitable access to behavioral healthcare. She is a Board Member of the West End House Boys and Girls Club and a member of the steering committee and the mental health committee of Allston Brighton Health Collaborative (ABHC). Walae also serves in an advisory capacity for other local organizations and committees focusing on resources for BIPOC and historically marginalized peoples. Walae has a BSc in behavioral neuroscience from Tufts University and MPH in community assessment, program development and evaluation with a focus in health policy from Boston University School of Public Health. Walae finds joy in the arts and in bringing people together.

Erin Wederbook Yuskaitis (she/her), Principal for Yellow Room Consulting, is an experienced museum educator and Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) facilitator specializing in adult learning, innovative program development, and cross-discipline meaning-making. She spent fifteen years in the art and museum worlds, working for four different cultural institutions in both Alabama and Massachusetts. Now collaborating with corporate, healthcare, and nonprofit clients, Erin’s personal mission is to foster connections through visual art and material culture so that people operate from a place of curiosity, observation, and consideration with themselves and each other. Erin received her BA from the University of Virginia in art history and archaeology, her MA from the University of Alabama in American studies, and her Certificate in Museum Studies/Education from Tufts University. She serves as the Education Professional Affinity Group Co-Chair for the New England Museum Association and the regional representative for the American Alliance of Museums Education Committee. With two young children, Erin’s limited spare time is spent doing yoga, walking, and listening to podcasts.

Racial Equity Glossary Terms:
Understanding Identity:


Walae Hayek

Founder, president, ROYA

Saturday June 10, 2023 3:30pm - 5:00pm EDT
Engineering 117