Week 7: Everything I learned about inclusivity, I learned from Uncle Sam

This week’s readings on inclusivity in the class room and hidden biases made me think about my time in the Navy. Much like the university setting the Navy brings together people from all walks of life. All races, all genders, all sexualities and all religions were represented in the Navy. From day one we were taking good ol’ boys from Alabama and black kids from Detroit and saying that not only are you going to sleep in the rack above this guy, but you are going shower with him, eat with him, work with him and depend upon him doing his job to keep you alive when things get bad. The situation that these young men and women were put in seemed unlikely to work– people from such different backgrounds obviously couldn’t come together to create a cohesive team, and yet overwhelmingly the Navy has been successful in bringing people together.

I think Uncle Sam has developed some skills which might be applicable in the college classroom.

  1. There is ongoing training that sailors are exposed to on dealing with people from a different background. Whether that is a sailor of a different race gender or sexuality, the Navy gives lots and lots of training about the importance of inclusivity.
  2. There is a clear point to the training and inclusive behavior. Sailors learned that hidden biases or bigoted behavior made them less safe, affected the quality of their work and the work of their shipmates, and created an environment where the Navy couldn’t fully take advantage of everyone’s strengths and talents. Nobody was expected to do participate in these programs just for the sake of doing them.
  3. Finally, I think that sailors were given a new identity that became more important that their backgrounds. We became sailors, we became members of a specific community, we joined a 200 year old fraternity of men and women. I think the esprit de corps that developed, helped people not discount the differences between themselves but realize that the similarities were more important.
The Navy like the University is certainly not perfect and there is a lot of work left to do in creating more inclusive communities. But whether it is giving students more training, letting them know the practical benefits of the training, or creating a Hokie identity that unites all of our students, the lessons created to keep men and women safe at sea can be used to keep our community safe in Blacksburg.


6 thoughts on “Week 7: Everything I learned about inclusivity, I learned from Uncle Sam”

  1. Thank you for this post!
    Of course the skills you mentioned can be applied in classrooms. This can be accomplished for example by encouraging students from different groups to work together in projects or assignments. This should happen in an indirect way as to tell the students that you should all learn from each other’s different cultures and experiences.

  2. Among many things that you touched on, the biggest thing was that you mentioned was that you became part of something bigger.

    While I have not served, my father was in the military and for multiple years we were stationed on-base. You learn that such negative behavior is not only unnecessary, but also dangerous. Sowing seeds of discontent or unprofessional behavior, even as a dependent reflects poorly on the group and its mission readiness.

    In our instance, we all belong, or are part of Virginia Tech. When you go to a conference or are in public, you represent it, and your reputation precedes you. Be known for sustained superior performance, not only in your work, but in your demeanor.

    1. I’m a military brat as well, and I had a similar experience. I won’t claim that my upbringing was completely without racial prejudice, but I think it was less prevalent than that of some of my friends (particularly those from very small, racially-homogeneous towns). We always had neighbors and friends of different races, and I really don’t remember noticing much. In many of the places I lived, the “us versus them” mentality had more to do with military vs. non-military than race or social class.

  3. Thank you for the interesting post. I really like the third point. Sailors were given a new identity and become a member of a new community. I guess the US army have a well-established procedure about being inclusive. As you said why not applying it in universities.

  4. This is a very insightful post. You, yourself, add diversity to this classroom because you have had experiences that many of us have never had. Better yet, in writing this blog post, you have demonstrated how diversity can foster learning. I have never been in the Navy, so I could never use experiences in the Navy as a teaching point.

    I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you have demonstrated that you don’t have to be a minority race, gender, etc to add diversity (sorry, I guess I didn’t speak directly to your actual post.)

  5. The diversity is always beneficial and brings new way of thinking, creativity and help people develop stronger skills by sharing the culture, experiences and way of thinking. Your post pointed to this matter very nice.

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