You can’t get far in any industry these days without hearing about diversity and inclusion, and for good reason. Racial inequity and the ever growing mix of cultures in the U.S. has created a demand for education and reform when it comes to issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.
Although the movement to foster more diversity and be more inclusive has gained a lot of momentum, it is important that individuals learn what exactly diversity and inclusion is and how to foster a more diverse and inclusive space. In other words, it can be easy to throw around buzz words surrounding this issue and feel like you are creating an impact, when in reality, you are just talking about making change that is yet to be made.
So, how do we, as a society, create diverse and inclusive spaces where all life experiences and perspectives are valued? It is important to start with some basic definitions:
Diversity is “the existence of variations of different characteristics in a group of people.”
Inclusion is “involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth of all people is recognized.”
Floating around on the internet is an analogy that puts these definitions in more simplistic terms: diversity means that you are invited to the party in the first place and inclusion means you are asked to dance when you get to the party. I like the picture this analogy paints for two reasons.
First, the idea is that all people are valued for their individual life experience. When we consider being inclusive and diversified, we have to think about the value that is added to our lives when we consider the personal experiences of others. If you have ever traveled to a new place or learned a new fact that changed your perspective about something you thought you understood, you can see why valuing people for their uniqueness would enrich your own culture and life experience. In other words, the best parties I have been to have a lot of different people having a lot of interesting conversations about their differences. The worst parties are ones that only include a few people who have the same life experiences.
The second thing I love about this party analogy is that we are all responsible for being the person who asks someone to dance at the party. If you went to a party where everyone was waiting for someone else to ask them to dance, no one ever would! This is a great way to think about diversity and inclusion; if we are always waiting for someone else to be inclusive, we will never reap the benefits of diversity and inclusion—and you could do harm to those who are not included. Parties are best when everyone is participating and asking new people to dance.
So what does this look like in your day to day life?
Well for one thing it means that talking about our differences is a good thing. Sometimes it can feel wrong to talk about the differences between yourself and others, but the only way that we can all understand one another is by understanding what is different as well as what is similar between us. It is more comfortable to talk about what is the same between yourself and another or to avoid people who are different from you, but that attitude creates serious problems. If you never listen to or learn about other people, you will miss out on opportunities to grow and can cause serious harm to vulnerable populations. Ignorance is not harmless.
So, look for opportunities to talk about the differences between your students and other people they see. Ask people to share where they are from or a tradition that their family has.
Beyond just promoting conversations about differences, it is vital that we positively reinforce those conversations when they do happen. We have to end the stigmas around talking about differences in race and culture. For example, if a young child is on a bus and points out that someone near her is speaking a different language, the guardian of that child should encourage the child to ask questions about the language and the culture that it might imply. Telling the child to be quiet or not ask those kinds of questions teaches the child that differences are bad and even scary, which is obviously problematic in the future.
So when you do talk about differences, be sure to create a positive and accepting atmosphere and reinforce that learning from one another is a good thing.
These two points should make it clear that we each have implicit biases because it is not always natural to acknowledge differences. This means that it takes practice to prize the differences between groups and that we each have to be vigilant in the ways we treat others to make sure that we do not give preferential treatment to people who have more in common with us than others. That kind of treatment leads to racism and exclusion.
If you are not sure how to get the conversation started, look for ways that diversity and inclusion is celebrated on a more public scale and bring those ideas back to your classroom.
For example, September 15th-October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month. During this month, people celebrate the culture, traditions, histories, and contributions of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Take the chance to do a little bit of research into some of the cultures that are included in the term “Hispanic” and share that knowledge. Invite someone of Hispanic descent to share something they love about their culture or something that makes them feel special. Make food, learn a dance, and most importantly talk about the things that make these cultures different in a positive way.
Small efforts to be inclusive and promote diversity can go a long way in helping children be kind and respectful to everyone.
Still have questions? Consider taking the course “Understanding Diversity and Promotion of Inclusion in a Childcare Setting” from Bertelsen Education.
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