Let’s erase DIVERSITY and INCLUSION

Hello readers, my apologies for leaving you alone last week, I had the intention to write but it never materialized. I went into autopilot mode, without being mindful about it, and time just kept going. In Shankar Vedantam words: that’s when the problem arises, when our unconscious self takes charge but we are not aware of it (“The Hidden Brain” thinking for us). I could share with you how I ended up in autopilot mode, but that is a story for another moment. Instead, I would like for you to remain with your mind wide open while I attempt to explain why I believe we should erase, destroy, disappear, etc. two very dangerous words: DIVERSITY and INCLUSION.

If you have read my posts before, you might think I am joking, based on my typical sarcastic tone, but NO, I AM NOT. I firmly believe that words such as DIVERSITY and INCLUSION, as well as MINORITY, UNDERREPRESENTED, and similar words that speak of differences and discrimination should be erased from our conscience, from our vocabulary. This might sound controversial, but here is my reasoning for this proposition. All these words have the unattended consequence of “stating, highlighting” the existence of DIFFERENCES, instead of recognizing and giving value to the existence of IDENTITY. I know that for some it might seem a simple matter of interpretation, a matter of linguistics, but words are powerful, as Professor Christine Labuski succeeded to highlight in the description of the Universal Precautions project1. She discussed the great impact that talking about “us” instead of “them” has on discussion of sensitive topics, and the benefit of thinking that the person sitting on your side might have gone through that hard topic situation (e.g. abortion, racism, rape, transgender). When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you are more mindful about the words you use, you are likely to look at a problem from different angles, from another perspective.

Another problem that I have with the words DIVERSITY and INCLUSION, not with the intention of promoting diversity and inclusion. Is that now you see them almost everywhere, and seems like all organizations need to emphasize that they promote an INCLUSIVE environment, even if in reality they don’t. But hey, it looks good to advertise it. “Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male”2.

Let’s go back to the previous idea of recognizing the existence of differences versus identities. Probably this is not the best moment to introduce this question but, what do you think of when you read: “we need to promote diversity and inclusion”. It might be my personality, but to me it brings negativity, I directly associate this phrase with the need to overcome differences between us, instead of valuing what each can bring to the table. Why do we have to highlight that there are differences between us? I acknowledge the importance of recognizing that not everyone is equal, each person is unique in multiple senses. Should we talk more about developing OPEN ACCESS environments instead of promoting DIVERSE and INCLUSIVE environments? Perhaps “open access” is not the best term either, but from my perspective it partially removes the focus around highlighting the differences. The later a word which I admit to associate with negativity and discrimination, a perspective you might not have. But then again, the same word could have a completely DIFFERENT meaning and context, highlighting once again that the problem seems to be in: not being open to other perspectives.

Diversity and inclusion/inclusive, bring the same negative effect that terms like minority and underrepresented create for me. The later speak of someone else being superior, even if that might not be the purpose. That is why I don’t consider myself a minority, nor part of an underrepresented group, I consider myself a human.

Following my thought process in this post might not have been as direct as I wished. But I hope you forgive me. At the end, probably I didn’t succeed to explain why I consider DIVERSITY and INCLUSION to be dangerous words, and perhaps my writing was more on the lines of a “confuse the masses and you will be king” speech type. But I hope your mind continues to be wide open, to be prepared to carefully listen and read what others have to said, and not going into autopilot mode, ignoring mode, as soon as you hear ideas coming from other perspectives.

You see, at the end, it is not a matter of erasing DIVERSITY and INCLUSION (the words) and replace them with another term, it is a matter of acknowledging the importance of perspectives and what body language, written words, spoken words, etc. could mean to someone else. How messengers can impact the message being delivered. How we should give always our best, no matter who is in front. How there is always more than one story to be told. If you haven’t heard to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED talk, please do so: “The Danger of a Single Story”.

Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep educating. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep asking WHY. Let’s continue to be more mindful. Let’s forget about A, B, C, D, E and F (the grades, not the letters) … easier said than done. Let’s focus on making sure to help each other out. Let’s create successful teams. Let’s remember that we are unique, and the only single common element among us, but the most important one, is that we are HUMANS.

Carlos F. Mantilla P.

  1. Christine Labuski, project description for Universal Precautions (not open for public access)
  2. Katherine W. Phillips, “How Diversity Makes us Smarter” (2014 – updated 2017)

11 Comments

Filed under GEDI F17

11 Responses to Let’s erase DIVERSITY and INCLUSION

  1. Jonathan Harding

    I enjoyed reading this post. I agree that diversity and inclusivity have become buzzwords that institutions use to up their PR. Often times, however, those inclusive initiatives feel hollow; like there was no real thought or intention behind them. At other times it feels like inclusive initiatives do a better job of lumping people together and segregating them based on stereotypes, or race, ethnicity, gender, etc. I also like your highlighting identity. Recognizing a person’s individual identity, rather than trying to include them as a part of their ethnicity/race/etc, I think, could create an environment based on respect for each individual rather than for their stereotype.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Jonathan, thanks for the comments. I think you were more successful to explain one of my thoughts on the matter, and I am glad I was successful to convey the message also, at some point while writing felt it was going to be confusing.

  2. Jyotsana

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Carlos. I sort of kind of agree with you but sort of kind of don’t. Let me try and explain. I agree that inclusion and diversity have become buzz words, just like Jonathan agrees above and yes, sometimes it causes and results in more division. However, I would be very skeptical of how people may interpret what you suggest – whether that word is open access or being human…I think one thing that needs to happen even before that is to reassess HOW people interpret whatever word is being used. For example, in my field saying the word “lunatic” is considered rude and inappropriate. At one time however this was a technical term being used by doctors and psychologists. It was how this word was interpreted by the socio-political systems and used against individuals is why it was then termed as rude and inappropriate. The same goes for feminism, I was trying to explain to my 14 year old nephew that in the most simple terms feminism means men and women are equal…and he didn’t get it. He said, “but they are!”.Yes, they are but that’s not how society interprets it, does it. Same for the words inclusion and diversity. If we don’t work on how people are interpreting the words and operationalizing it, we really cannot affect any change. What do you think?!

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Jyotsana, I absolutely agree with what you expressed. I think the second point I was trying to make with the post ended up being eclipsed. I tried to also point out the importance of analyzing issues from multiple perspectives, because it all ends on how people interpret a word or what they feel about it. As I was writing my post, I came to that realization. And yes one intention was to point out how emphasizing so much on diversity and inclusion could lead to unwanted segregation, but it wasn’t all… In respect to your final comment, I am not sure we could reach an agreement of how people interpret a word, so at the end the word might not matter. What I wish we could reach at one point is that conclusion: “but they are”, “all are equal” and in my ideal word, perhaps eliminating words that speak of difference could help to get there :)… now I could be part of a minority on this… cannot blame the words hehehe

      • Jyotsana

        Thank you Carlos. I think we have to keep talking about these issues as they affect not only us but our upcoming generations…may one of the “but they are” generations will figure it out, but they won’t unless we as educators encourage the dialogue. I always enjoy reading your posts 🙂

  3. I’ll just support what Jyotsana said about the importance of continuing to talk about these issues. And while I agree that words like diversity and inclusion get overworked, I think it’s a mistake to see concern about diversity or difference as being about maintaining segregation and hierarchies. Quite the opposite. Yes, of course all humans are “equal” but they are not the same. And most of us exercise a combination of privilege and disadvantage as we make our way through the world. Everyone is unique, and there are aspects of an individual’s experience, identity and their social context that make it easier or more difficult for them to survive or thrive.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Dr. Nelson, yes we should continue to talk about these issues, and we should continue to provide opportunities for all, recognizing as you said our uniqueness and different paths taken… we also need to work on the root of the issues so that in the future being diverse, being inclusive is “second nature”, that it will happen without it needing to be “forced”…so reaching an ideal world. … And with your comment, I realized that I kept my taking on diversity, at the perhaps superficial level, of different ethnic backgrounds, gender, etc without accounting for the diverse paths, the privileges/disadvantages… so that is the other component how people perceive diversity? what is the first thing that comes to mind? do we recognize the depth of meaning?

  4. Nicole Arnold

    Hi Carlos – I appreciated your post as even reading through it, looking through the comments, and thinking about what I want to say – it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. You’re right; the words diversity and inclusion bring about all kinds of heavy feelings and opinions both positive and negative. It can be challenging to articulate experiences and perspectives about these topics in a way that is not offensive. The more we talk about it, the more I think it becomes easier though. When I took the Preparing the Professoriate course last semester, we talked a lot about the election and how it had impacted some of our students. I thought that there was no way that the discussion could go well, however it was very informative and everyone treated each other with respect. I also learned so much from my classmates. That course has helped to prepare me for some of the discussions that we are approaching this week in class, but I’m learning that it can take time and practice.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Nicole, thank you for your comment. Indeed, getting into this kind of talks is necessary. I think it allows us to see other perspectives and understand point of views. When I was writing my post this week, I had another “strategy” on mind, I was going to talk about… anyways I didn’t really plan to take this “controversial” approach, but then I felt like writing about this instead of just talking could be better, at least I was able to think twice what word I wanted to use, even if sometimes the word doesn’t matter because there is still a tone behind the text. Like you said, it can be hard to not be offensive. I really appreciate the comments, the more we talk the more our minds are open to other perspectives, and I think that should be the ultimate goal, not to necessarily convince the other person about your view, but to leave everyone thinking about it… I think at the end what I want is a world where words like DIVERSITY and INCLUSION are not needed to be emphasized, because they will not be needed, all will have equal opportunity access, pipelines would be better designed, diversity would be truly embraced… utopia?

  5. MiguelAndres Guerra

    Thanks Carlos for the post! I like how you said about redifining the ideals of one whole made of people won differences rather than the terms INCLUSION or DIVERSITY! But, how would you apply diversity without talking about EXclusion?

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Well MA, that could be the million dollar question…without over simplifying, I would trust that people would not exclude or that would try to include as much as possible, rather than relying on the system to do it for you…again the words don’t really matter at the end, but how you act

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