Working toward transformation and racial equity

Hugo House has been grappling publicly with its role in structural and systemic racism for several months. We are listening, learning, and making mistakes. Our progress has been too slow, and we are guilty of gaps in our understanding and knowledge. We are working hard to improve. We are grateful for a thoughtful community that is holding us accountable with courage and commitment.

It’s important to us to provide some broad context for our journey and to offer a standing space for updates and community engagement. Our goal is to move forward with humility, transparency, and inclusion.


First, a bit of background:

In July 2020, a group of writers of color 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.

At the same time, 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 Writers of Color Alliance (WOCA), who sent the August letter. 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.


Action is essential.

We know that statements without action mean nothing. We also know that achieving transformative change is a long, often uncomfortable process that requires careful thought and dedicated attention. We are committed to stewarding Hugo House—a community institution that all parties say they want to see succeed—with humility, care and integrity. We are committed to working collaboratively and openly while fulfilling our responsibilities to staff, students, teachers and donors.


Timeline of Events

See the timeline of events that have occurred between our receiving the original letter from WOCA on Jul. 31, 2020, and today.

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Racial Equity Statement

Hugo House commits to work toward racial equity at all levels of our organization.

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Updates on Requested Action Items

Wondering what progress we’ve made on action items requested by WOCA and other members of the community? Find it here.

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Additional Action Items

These action items were developed by Hugo House staff and board, after receiving feedback from the community as part of our strategic plan process, the letter, and the community forum, in an effort to advance equity goals.

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Your Hugo House: Community Forums

Hugo House doesn’t just exist because of you; Hugo House is you. Join us for this series of open community forums.

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Help Hugo House Become Anti-Racist

Share your ideas about actions Hugo House can take to become an anti-racist organization.

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