On the Buzzwords of “Diversity” and “Inclusion”

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Diversity and Inclusion: Before coming to Japan, I had no idea what they mean! After experiencing exclusion and feeling marginalized, I am gradually getting to know these terms.

ELT people in Japan have felt that there is a need to talk about diversity and inclusion and probably this is why the theme of JALT2018 is “Diversity and Inclusion”. It is worth noting that the theme of SIETAR Japan 2017 was “Promoting Equity and Social Change: Acknowledging the Diversity Within”.

Here is the message on JALT2018 webpage:

“To everything there is a season.” And a reason. Now is the season for inclusion, to embrace the incredible diversity within our profession. Although there seems to be much diversion, division, and exclusion in the wider world, the time is now ripe for us to look at the diversity within our practices and ask, “How can we be more inclusive?” In order to support inclusion and create a more level playing field for our students, we need to better understand the evolving language learning and teaching landscape, become aware of the work that is being done in new areas and heed the call from our learners, teachers, and institutions to play our parts in a brighter future.

JALT2018 will provide a platform for new ideas and hitherto unheard voices to be heard. It will provide avenues to open up our classrooms and challenge existing ideas about what we language teachers and our learners need in order to usher in an era of change. We aim to address the concerns of teachers, learners, and leaders and show how “inclusion” provides a place from which multiplicity of thought and action can flourish.

The theme of the conference has been questioned. Here are the questions and you can find them on JALT social media:

  1. Is ‘exclusion’ a problem among JALT members that needs to be addressed?
  2. I must be confused. What does diversity and inclusion have to do with teaching English?
  3. Inclusion is a complex notion. I wonder what it means to everyone. It is obviously more than just being “included in a group”, with a lot of politics attached. Is it equality as well? Is it oriented to inclusion of minorities and removing discrimination?
  4. Would this inclusion and diversity you speak of be extended to those who are skeptical of the leftist / Marxist / post-modern conceptual framework on which the conference is based. This is a sincere question.

These questions encouraged me to do a deep research and find some information about diversity and inclusion. Maha Bali’s blog post, Unpacking terms around equity, power and privilege, and podcast, Complicating diversity and inclusion hosted by Greg Curran, were the best resources to start with. I read her blog post three times and listened to her podcast twice. I paused the podcast and went back and forth many times.

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Here are the parts that I found interesting and thought-provoking:


♥ Becoming Conscious of Our Oppression ♥

Everyone who is a minority in some way at some point in their life becomes conscious of oppression hopefully if they are educated and they start to open their eyes. If you are in that situation and it is happening to you all the time, you start noticing it, and then you realize that it is actually intersectional.

Also, I found the term “colorblind” related to this point. Here are some parts from a post by Na Shai Alexander, Gen Y on D&I: The Problem with Colorblindness in the Selfie Generation. She remarks:

I-dont-see-color-i-only-see-people

How many times have you heard someone in your professional or personal circles say that they are “colorblind” or “don’t see color?”  Or that “color doesn’t matter” to them?  On the surface, these statements seem innocuous. And in a society where much history has been marked with painful recollections of racial tension, injustice, and discrimination, wounds that in many cases are still tender, it is easy to see why the term prevails. Talking about color isn’t easy, and so, in many cases, we don’t.

It is even more bizarre to conclude that we can be “colorblind” in this day of Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and the like. In this “selfie generation,” color is often the first (and hopefully not the last) detail that we see.

Diversity begins with color consciousness, or critical awareness of race and racism. However, awareness of and valuing diversity are not sufficient to achieve it.

Assuming that diverse persons will be attracted to an institution simply because of its excellence or because it values diversity is a passive approach that is unlikely to diversify an institution.

Proactive and ongoing efforts toward inclusion and equity are necessary to create and sustain diversity.


♥ Getting Beyond Generic Approaches to Diversity and Inclusion ♥

A lot of times we talk about diversity or we bring a different person but that does not take into account the complexity of how that different person will fit into the structures that already exist and a lot of times those structures are not modified to support the inclusion.

A lot of times diversity is tokenistic and it is just bringing a different person to look like we have the person but then it does not take into account the complexities why it is difficult for that person to be there in the first place, and once they are there, how to make sure that when they are there their voices are understood not just heard.

Diversity is a “nice” term for the dominant to use, and it implies that just having different people with different backgrounds is a desirable thing, because it benefits everyone, including the dominant. The problem with the term diversity is that it removes power from the equation.


♥ An Intentional Approach to Diversity and Inclusion ♥

The trickier thing is recognizing that diversity is HARD WORK if you want to do it right. Because integrating people who are different from the dominant majority/perspective is not a matter of plunging them in and expecting it all to work out. There will be tension. There needs to be intentional effort to make this work. To make the voices exist alongside each other, when in reality, having a couple of “diverse” voices in a sea of dominance does nothing to challenge the status quo.

Inclusivity is such a problematic term because:

♦ It implies there is a thing that belongs to certain people, and they’re being generous by including others into it, by letting others in.

♦ When I “include” someone, I include them on my own terms, and that’s not the epitome of empowerment. Inclusivity is better than not inclusivity, right? But inclusivity is not empowerment.

You involve people but you keep doing things exactly the same as you have been doing it before. That is not really solving the problem.

When you include one person who is different from everybody else, that does not help. But if you have the diversity of diverse people, that becomes different.


♥ Final Remarks ♥

As a Muslim who has lived in the US and UK, I don’t have a lot of instances of people discriminating me, but when it happens, it is deep because it is not that one incident. There is a lot more behind it. There is background to that feeling. You as an individual are not problematic.

Even marginal people together can silence each other, for example, by not being willing to speak up about certain things.


I keep reading and blogging! 🙂

 

 

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