Updated April 19, 2022.
We’re sharing our progress transparently.
In July 2020, the Writers of Color Alliance (WOCA) and allies sent Hugo House a letter expressing significant concerns and listing requested actions. In December, we wrote about our reckoning with racial inequities at Hugo House.
We misstepped after that with our process for identifying and naming a new development director, who is white. We let confusion and bureaucracy slow our move toward engaging a DEI professional to help guide us.
We have taken some concrete steps toward transformation, including holding a community forum on racial equity and launching a team of staff and board members to compile all the records we had regarding demographic data, budgets, and more from 2018 through 2020 to inform our first annual DEI report. This was a specific request made by WOCA. We took that—along with numerous other concerns and requests—seriously. The report won’t be perfect. It’s a start.
In February 2021, we took public steps to rectify some of our mistakes and move forward. Tree Swenson, our executive director for nine years, resigned to enable the organization to move forward with building a more inclusive and equitable future. We began inclusive search processes for a new executive director and a new development director.
In order to become an antiracist organization, we believe in the importance of not only sharing our successes, but also sharing our missteps and the process of rectifying them.
Timeline of Events
Hugo House DEI Committee begins the hiring process for a DEI consultant
Mar. 25 | Hugo House Board of Directors announces the start of the search for permanent Executive Director
Hugo House engages a consulting firm to conduct a DEI audit of the organization
July 6 | Hugo House adds Equity FAQ to website
July 1 | Shahina Piyarali begins term as board president
June 22 | Hugo House opens applications for four new positions: Adult Education Manager, Development Associate, Events Curator, and Bookkeeper
May 18 | Hugo House board of directors elects Shahina Piyarali to be its next president, beginning July 1, 2021
May 12 | Hugo House replaces $500+ donor early registration day with Scholarship Donation Day, where anyone who donates $250 or more to our scholarship fund can register the day before member registration begins
May 4 | Hugo House devotes all funds raised during GiveBIG to the scholarship fund
Apr. 23 | Hugo House board develops working group to work directly with WOCA on power-sharing agreement
Apr. 19 | Hugo House board and DEI committee meet with WOCA to develop power-sharing agreement
Mar. 18 | Hugo House confirms that both searches (DEI consultant and ED) are suspended
- Hugo House releases an adult class survey, where community members and others who are interested can mark the kinds of classes they would like to see offered
- Hugo House introduces Your Hugo House community forums to improve transparency and programmatic processes
Mar. 10 | WOCA reiterates demand for Hugo House to halt the DEI Consultant and Executive Director searches
Mar. 5 | Acting interim executive director Rob Arnold begins working to broker a meeting with WOCA to move forward on a collaborative process
Mar. 3 | Hugo House names Rob Arnold acting interim executive director
Feb. 22 | WOCA calls off the strike
Feb. 19 | Hugo House announces leadership transition
Feb. 8 | WOCA calls for ED resignation
Feb. 6 | WOCA holds community forum about Hugo House
Internal hire named development director
Jan. 25 | Progress on Racial Equity Action Items (see action items below)
Dec. 17 | Racism at Hugo House: A Public Acknowledgement
Dec. 11 | Community Forum for racial justice held at Hugo House
Hired facilitator to run community forum for racial justice
Ten percent teacher pay increase goes into effect for Fall quarter.
Sep. 19 | Board held listening session with WOCA leaders
Board, staff, and teachers all attend ally training
July 31 | Received open letter from WOCA about racism at Hugo House
July 22 | Scholarship program is overhauled to be more inclusive and visible on our website
Jun. 11 | 27 free spaces are offered to BIPOC writers in our summer classes
Jun. 5 | First version of 2020–25 Strategic Plan is approved and released on website
May 15 | Scribes summer camps are shifted to a sliding scale pricing model to increase access
May 5 | Board adopts updated version of racial equity statement, revised by DEI committee. The first racial equity statement was published on the website in May 2019.
May 1 | Write with Hugo House (free writing program with the Seattle Public Library) is launched virtually
Mar. 31 | DEI committee meets for the first time. Earlier meetings in the year were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jan. 27 | Formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee
Jan. 14 | Initial draft of 2020–2025 Strategic Plan is approved by board of directors
Action Items in Progress
The Writers of Color Alliance (WOCA) has requested that Hugo House take a number of specific actions toward transforming Hugo House into an institution that is welcoming, inclusive, and accessible to all members of our community. We will continue to update this list as we progress on our journey.
- A public acknowledgement of Hugo House’s contributions to racial inequity and the many harms it has caused to writers of color in the past. Read our statement from Dec. 17, 2020.
- A public commitment to becoming an antiracist organization, including a statement demonstrating a meaningful understanding of that term and a commitment to both internal and external action to achieve it. Our statement in December included this commitment to becoming an antiracist organization.
- Holding an open community forum with the writers who signed the sign-on letter, giving them an opportunity to both air their grievances as well as provide solutions. We held an open community forum on racial equity on Dec. 11, 2020, and collected many ideas that have informed a broader action plan.
- A public commitment to a transparent, professionally managed and well-resourced racial equity process that leads to transformative structural change. Hugo House is on the verge of engaging a DEI consultant to guide our transformation. We deployed a team of staff and board members to compile all the records we had regarding demographic data, budgets, and more from 2018 through 2020 to inform our first DEI report. Our consultant will provide an essential perspective on this report, and how to improve, share and learn from it. We are committed to making our practices equitable and to building authentic relationships and trust.
- WOCA demanded that Tree Swenson, our former executive director, step down. Tree Swenson, our executive director for nine years, voluntarily resigned Feb. 19, 2021, to enable the organization to move forward with building a more inclusive and equitable future. We will retain an executive search firm to conduct a national search for her successor. We will include BIPOC Board and community members on a search committee. Details of this process will be posted publicly as they begin to solidify, and we will welcome community feedback. This is a crucial role, and we will take the needed time and use a clear, inclusive process to fill it with care and thoughtfulness.
- Reopening the hiring process for Hugo House’s development director. Hugo House committed on Feb. 19, 2021, to reopen that position. The hiring process for this position will begin once the permanent Executive Director has been hired.
- Commitment to an ongoing, transparent process of engagement with the WOCA group as Hugo House evaluates and equitably restructures operations. We have invited—and still welcome—WOCA members to join our Board and/or DEI committee.
- WOCA demanded that Hugo House pause its DEI consultant and Executive Director searches as a prerequisite to meeting with the board to discuss power-sharing models. We agreed and paused the search, and worked directly with WOCA to build equitable, inclusive structures for the hiring process for both positions. In March 2022, the Board of Directors announced the start of an Executive Director search utilizing a hiring committee comprising community members, board, and staff. This committee will be tasked with retaining an executive search firm to conduct a national search. Concurrently, Hugo House’s DEI Committee also began the process of hiring a DEI consultant. More information about both searches will be shared publicly as details develop.