Inclusion as learning community: Initial reflections on the journey

Diversity and multicultural were two of the early terms that were used to describe efforts toward increasing demographic diversity in the corporate world and higher education dating back to the 1980s.  Since then, the terminology has continued to evolve as have the efforts and activities.

Many of the initial efforts were focused on access to higher education by individuals of diverse backgrounds especially individuals of color.  Recruitment became a priority with less attention paid to retention and graduation although these would follow. These early efforts and initiatives were based mostly on compositional diversity.  Studies were done, data collected and analyzed. Recommendations made and strategies put forward which became common practices at colleges and universities around the United States. Chief Diversity Officers (CDO) and associated offices were established and charged to increase diversity, including efforts for faculty, staff and students.

In developing successful retention strategies and degree completion among students of diverse backgrounds, universities were forced to examine the university environment and how the climate (perhaps ‘chilly climate’) influenced not only access but more so retention, and ultimately graduation. As a result, support programs and student success offices evolved. And the language and terminology continued to evolve.

The terms of “inclusion” and “inclusiveness” were made prominent by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) Inclusive Excellence initiative.  Many universities would ultimately adopt this approach and the “inclusion” terminology now leads many offices and initiatives.

Virginia Tech adopted the AACU inclusive excellence approach which guided our most recent diversity strategic plan and led the way to our current initiative.  Since early fall 2014, Virginia Tech has embarked on a journey toward inclusivity through our “InclusiveVT” initiative.  In developing the university-wide initiative, VT President Sands indicated that inclusion comes first and with inclusion diversity will follow. Through InclusiveVT, senior administrators were charged with the responsibility to propose and implement specific initiatives designed to foster inclusivity throughout the university.  These efforts are focused on people, programs, and policies and are identified with the four aspects of inclusive excellence: access and success, campus climate and interior up relations, education and scholarship, and institutional infrastructure. In an attempt to increase communication and university engagement with the initiatives, activities and resources are posted on the website, information shared via twitter (@inclusiveVT) and through our blog entitled diversity dialogue.

As indicated above, there are many activities and efforts underway at Virginia Tech which can move us toward becoming “inclusiveVT”.  But the efforts and conversation must be pushed further.  If we are to become truly inclusive I believe that we must embrace inclusion as a learning community – not necessarily a Learning Community in the more formal sense but a learning community in which we (faculty, staff, students) work together with shared goals and aspirations.  In this learning community we will need to work together and collaboratively.  Not as top down or bottom up but as fellow travelers on this journey.  In this learning community, we can and must learn from each other regardless of one’s position or status.  We must be open to hearing the voices of others who are different from us and sharing openly.  As a community, we will need to understand “white privilege“, micro aggressions, and unconscious bias and engage in efforts to create affirming environments for all.  We should feel empowered to speak and required to listen.  In this learning community, we can and will learn.

The journey has begun.  Please join us and offer your reflections along the way.

 

 

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