On being a good “fit” for the UUA

No, I’m not going to be a “good fit” and that’s what’s wrong with the UUA

In the past few days it has become known that yet another UUA hiring decision has left the upper levels of leadership as white as ever. For the 3rd time within as many years, a Regional Lead position was filled with a white minister and for the second time with a white male minister.

What was not known publicly until now is that I was a final candidate for the position.

I do not reveal this lightly…in fact it is with real fear that I am jeopardizing any future career within UU communities. But as I consider what has happened, I keep coming back to the thought that if they weren’t willing to hire me for this position then what makes me think that will change for any theoretical future? And ultimately how do we hold the UUA accountable for racial discrimination and upholding white supremacy if no one stands up in the public square and says “me, it was me, you did this to me and it is not ok, I demand you make this right!”

And lest, as you read this, your white supremacy tries to intervene, yes I am fully qualified for the position (but perhaps you should ask yourself why that was your initial reaction.) During my final conversation with the hiring manager I confirmed with him that in his words “I believe you are ready to step into this position as is, I didn’t want you to think that I thought you would need to grow into the job.” And also was told that the deciding factor would be “…needing to make a decision about the right fit for the team.”

I began this process with every faith and hope that the leadership/hiring process of our faith would see me as “the right fit.” I have lived in the Southern Region for over a decade and served as religious professional for more than half that time. I have deep ties to the South through my husband’s family. They have shown me a culture I never knew, or could have possibly understood, from my native Los Angeles. I have served our faith with my unpaid time and resource as a member of the Board of Trustees, most recently nominated for a second term and elected to assume the position of Secretary of the Association beginning in June. And let me be clear, I know the individual who has been hired and I bear him no ill will. I recognize that it is his unearned white male privilege that made him the “right fit” over me. I hope he recognizes it too.

As I passed through the multiple layers of the hiring process there were red flags along the way; among others, comments about how a religious professional who is not ordained clergy is at a disadvantage when dealing with congregations; the utter lack of acknowledgment, when directly asked, of what work the white Regional Lead colleagues might need to do to welcome and support a woman of color on the team. But I chose to “assume good intentions.” And, as has been proven time and again, our UU good intentions are not good enough if they don’t examine impact and action.

So, in upper level management positions of power and influence in the UUA, what is the criteria for the “right fit?” A quick look at the President’s Leadership Council and the Regional Leads staff will tell you the right fit is overwhelmingly white, male, straight, and ordained clergy. The most recent census data available (2015) tells us that 83% of the service workers at the UUA are people of color. It also tells us that of the 49 positions of UUA Executive and First Management level, 42 are held by white people (86%), almost the exact inverse ….I’ll leave you here a moment to re-read those sentences.

And why is it important that we look at those three categories (service, exec, first management?) Because the top and bottom categories tell us the story of power and white supremacy in the UUA. The Exec and First Management levels are the directors of departments and staff. They have the power, influence and autonomy to direct policy, resources and hiring. And autonomy is a huge measure of power within our dominant culture; who gets to decide the what, when, who and how of the UUA. And just seven are people of color. It is an insult to the over 100 UU Religious Professionals of Color gathered at the recent Finding Our Way Home conference to suggest that this is anything other than racial discrimination at the UUA.

Lastly, in recent days I’ve read a lot on social media about this topic and inevitably someone says, “it’s not about this one hire.” And that is true and not true. This is just the latest in a long history of hiring (and firings) that keep religious professionals of color out of power in the UUA. But for me and my family, it IS about this one hire. I have been injured. My family has been injured. This also includes financial injury to our family. Our faith has been tested. I have had to sit my sons down, fierce warriors of Unitarian Universalism who love their faith deeply, and explain the realities of racially discriminatory hiring. And yes, I’ve always planned to have that talk with them, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t be in the context of our faith. The parade of emotions across their faces, confusion, disappointment, anger, and now resignation is almost more than I could bear. So yes, in the larger UU world it isn’t just about this one hire AND, to us, it very much is.

On every UUA open position job description you will find a line that reads: “People with disabilities, people of color, Hispanic/Latinx, and LGBTQ candidates are encouraged to apply.”  So here is my bottom line, the UUA is happy to welcome and showcase my “diversity”, skills, and talents in unpaid service to the Association but when it comes to people of color in paid positions of power and influence, they might as well change that invitation to read “need not apply.”

I, and my siblings of color, will never be the “right fit” within the current paradigm. The fact that the UUA can’t see how transformational our leadership would be for our faith is what’s wrong with the UUA.

YoUUrs in service,

Christina Signature

Christina D. Rivera

Religious Educator, LREDA

Director of Administration and Finance, TJMC-UU Charlottesville, VA

Secretary-Elect, UUA Board of Trustees

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87 thoughts on “On being a good “fit” for the UUA

Add yours

  1. This is a difficult situation and has sparked important discussions. But there is one thing that is unclear to me, and perhaps someone can clarify. The initial post indicates that the hiring decision was based on race, not qualifications. Do we know that to be the case? Do we know that it reflects “unearned white male privilege”? Or is it possible that among two (or more) qualified candidates, the best qualified was chosen? What is the basis for concluding that a less qualified candidate was selected due to racial bias? Just trying to understand. thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My understanding is the Rev. Burnette did not plan to reside in the district he was being hired for and that the requirement was waived so that he could be hired. It starts to sound like the playing field was not level from the beginning. If no qualified candidates from within the region applied, they should have re-opened the search. This was badly handled and other candidates have every reason to be upset.


      1. Thanks for the information on this. But it does not really answer the question about relative qualifications. From what I have seen, it is impossible to know whether or not the original decision resulted in selecting the most qualified candidate or not. Anyone who does not have all the information cannot know whether that is the case or not, and that includes the candidates themselves.

        It seems at least possible that the original hiring decision was based on the best relative qualifications. If that is the case, this has been very unfair to that candidate and to others. And how can we know it is not the case? I don’t mean to be argumentative, but this is very troubling to me. How do we know that this decision represented anything other than a good faith effort to select the best qualified candidate? I believe we don’t know. Thanks for your patience with me!


      2. According to UUA.org, the resident requirement had been previous waived, in hopes of getting more POC onto the playing field. Do you have a source to the contrary> It concerns me that we don’t even agree on what the facts are and are reacting emotioanally to how we feel about the situation.


      3. According to UUA, that rule was changed two years ago to widen the range of applicants, in hopes of finding more POC. If you want, I will track down the link for that.


      4. my response ended up 2 posts down, so I’ll repost it here, with the comment. According to the UUA, 2 years ago the residency requirement was waived in hopes of getting a larger pool of applicants, hopefully including more POC. If you want, I’ll track down the link where that was stated.


      5. sorry, my posts didn’t end up where I thought they would, so ended up with several of them in the same place. I couldn’t find a way to delete the duplicates. ;-(


    2. Thank you for asking a reasonable question.

      I know Rev. Burnett. He has a PhD and 17 years in the pulpit. He has served on the UUA Board of Trustees. In my 27 years of being a UU, I have not met a better minister.

      From Christina’s post, it sounds like she does not have training and has not been a minister. Please tell me if I misunderstood what she wrote.

      That’s all I know about qualifications.


  2. I, like David, snagged a bit on the “unearned white male privilege” comment. In an otherwise cohesive set of factual circumstances, Christina’s opinion surfaced and it had a barb to it. David, I’d suggest you simply reread her message without that sentence and the sentence following it, then draw your own conclusions. My conclusions do not address the personal opinions of two or more people competing for a job. My conclusions address a systemic problem in the hierarchy: we lack diversity. And it’s a BIG gap, not something that a few years of tinkering will cure. I believe that when two people are qualified for a job and one can help cure a systemic problem of this magnitude, the UU family should take a step to cure. And Christina, while I characterized that quote as an opinion, the “white male privilege” portion is too heavily evidenced to refute.


    1. This is a good point: rather than get caught up in a specific instance, recognize the general problem and address it. That makes sense. However, in this case the comment was made with respect to one specific individual, who was significantly harmed by it (he lost a job for which he appears to have been qualified). And I don’t think we or the person making the comment had access to the facts to determine that the allegation was accurate – it was an assumption. I don’t think the ends justify the means, in general or in this case. I appreciate the comments on this. Again, I don’t mean to be argumentative, but I continue to be troubled by how this occurred. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, thank you, thank you David. The assumptions and “alternative facts” from this site and the UUA concern me deeply. Very few people actually have all the facts, allegedly, only the hiring team knows what they said to everyone and only they have everyone credentials. Someone or some people either misunderstood, misinterpreted, or lied, and that concerns and saddens me that any UU would do that.


      2. The point is, if every time it’s just about “which of these two is the most qualified,” and every single time it’s the white one, that’s a problem, not a coincidence.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. UUA claims to have affirmative action in hiring, and if so, IF she and Rev. Burnette were considered equally qualified, the job would have been hers, and should have been if they were equal. Is it possible his IS more qualifed, with his PHD and 17 years in the pulpit?

      I’m in favor of affirmative action, but my concern is wanting to hire POC for high level positions when we have so few POC who want to be members. I strongly feel the steps to the goal start with attracting members who are POC, and I don’t know how to do that. Suggestions?


    3. I agree it’s a big problem and will take many years to resolve, but I don’t see the problem being the UUA, look how much we have improved with Rev. Morales. I think the starting point to the solutions if finding ways of attracting POC to become members, and then for them to become qualified for advanced positions.


  3. The danger in using the term “equally” qualified is that it provides wiggle room for maintaining the status quo. Affirmative action gave preference to minorities among those candidates who met predetermined qualifications. Certainly individuals getting jobs were not always the MOST qualified. But if affirmative action were not implemented, whites would likely be “more” qualified, at least in having experience, because experience reflects history, and history was the period of white supremacy.


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