As people seek out new adventures, and new experiences, our society has become more and more diverse. Where we once used to all live in our own societies where we all “look the same” and “act the same,” we are now becoming even more of a melting pot of cultures, races, and lifestyles. Look around-- your workplace or classroom probably has people from a variety of backgrounds that you may be familiar with, and others that are entirely new.
A more diverse and inclusive environment is a beautiful thing, but with change there usually come problems. While we work on becoming a more inclusive society, it’s important to remember the challenges and issues that can arise. It is crucial to recognize our role to address these challenges while making our classroom or workplace more welcoming and equitable.
But to do this we need to acknowledge the problems at hand first. So, what are the big issues when it comes to diversity and equity?
- Perceptions of sexism, racism, homophobia, or other unwelcoming or disrespectful atmospheres
People can sense an unwelcoming atmosphere based on another person's attitude or overall demeanor, whether it's intentional or not. Perception is reality, so if someone feels uncomfortable because of this, their feelings are valid and should be recognized.
- Discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other personal attributes
Many times, people are denied equal treatment based solely on their personal attributes, such as physical traits, political affiliations, religion, or social class.
- Lack of Resources
In many cases, communities that need the most support do not receive adequate funding or resources to support themselves. There are also people who do not support a change in resource allocation and believe the systems in place are effective.
We all have a responsibility to create environments that embrace diversity and equality. Here are a few approaches we can all take:
- Encourage Diverse Teams
Self-segregation is a major issue that happens in all walks of life. While it's easy to look the other way, making communities more inclusive is a responsibility each of us has to undertake. Start by having 5-minute check-ins during class where students can ask about each other's day or questions about coursework. During that time have students partner with students they don't know. Do the same in your own life – reach out to colleagues from different departments and different social circles. Start the conversation and it will be possible for change to follow. Students will, in the end, probably appreciate this opportunity (and their projects might actually turn out better as a result)!
- Use Diverse Examples in the Classroom
The same company, product, or brand to illustrate a point in the classroom might feel safe. It’s an easily recognized example, but it might not reach all people equally. Mix it up a bit and use examples from other countries, or less known companies. Don't be afraid to explain some of the details so students understand. Using examples that are less familiar will encourage students to think outside their own experience.
- Create an Open and Safe Environment
While it may be easy to assume we’re all accepting of those different from us, that’s not always the case. Make it clear to the class that thoughtful conversation and sharing opinions is welcomed. However, address any comments or opinions that are sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, or transphobic head-on. This sets the expectation that students will be held accountable for what they say while educating the students on why these ideologies are harmful.
- Championing a Thoughtful Use of Resources
In many cases, talk is not enough. Resources matter…a lot. Instead of thinking or encouraging everyone to be “fair”, champion the idea of equitable distribution. We live in an unfair world and historically underserved populations have started out at a disadvantage in many cases. Your school, department, and even your classroom should consider what best practices can be followed to make sure all students have the same chance of success. Think critically of how your school’s time, money, and efforts are being spent, and where it can be improved.
Embracing diversity and creates an atmosphere of equity and inclusion that supports both our students and coworkers. We are also creating an environment that helps prepare people to work within diverse environments throughout the rest of their lives.