Do I even belong here? Where are my people?

Hi!

Its 2019  – a time when the whole world is literally connected and made a small place through technology. Yet, the issue of diversity and inclusion still lingers as a problem to be solved, the silent thoughts associated with people who look different or speak a different language, I personally find it intriguing as to why it still feels uncomfortable! Why is diversity and inclusion still a thing that needs to be discussed? How long is it going to take when these topics are no longer cognitively processed but assimilated as something “normal” in our society?

Well, the truth is, diversity, inclusion and equity is definitely an elephant in the room but this elephant needs to move on and pedagogy is surely one of the best ways. I grew up in India, a country where people speak a ton of languages. I grew up in a small town where the language was completely different from what we spoke at home, the food was different, the culture and traditions were different. Interestingly, it never made any difference to me. I was proud that I knew different languages, I never had to search for a particular item at a restaurant when I was travelling in different parts of the country. It was my everyday life and it was a normal affair.

However, its not the same always. When I first went abroad, that’s when the concept of diversity hit me. Watching news all these years, movies, television and the different ideas I had of the “foreign world” started to hit me when I actually set foot abroad. Until now, I was seeing the world with my eyes, but now I was seeing them through a different lens –  a lens that grew over time, influenced by movies, news, magazine columns and so on. I actually started feeling different because all I knew was what I was told about how I will be perceived. I was lost in the perpetual and autonomous pros/cons tables that my mind started to make. But when I started to become involved with people, started listening, accepting their choices, the way they did what they did, there was a sense of expansion. I think thats what inclusive pedagogy aims at – helping students develop a mindset where they can be who they are and would like to know others for who they are.

I come from an engineering background. Diversity in my department is crucial, why? the whole world uses technology and it would be an irony if the makers of technology cannot accept diversity. I would like to share an anecdote here. I was once working in a lab where the students belonged to a particular country and spoke a certain language. I was the only one from a different place. It was fine initially, however, things started getting difficult when it came to communicating regarding work. It was hard to also make a personal relationship since I was outnumbered and I couldn’t help but feel an outsider. People were more formal to me than required, I could not participate in the small conversations, I could not laugh when they shared a joke, well, i could not even tell if they said a joke and if they did and they all laughed, it would feel like they were laughing at me although they did not, they discussed problems in research which I could decipher based on some words that were English but I could not involve in them. This was making it hard for me to not only grow in my studies but also as a person. I had to leave although I loved the work!

I think it is extremely important for people especially students, to feel a sense of belonging where they are. If one feel that sense of belonging where they are be it their lab, or class room, or with room mates, I think we no longer need to discuss inclusion, because its now a part of us. One does not need to question anymore, “Do I even belong here? Where are my people?

 

 

 

Category(s): GRAD5114

14 Responses to Do I even belong here? Where are my people?

    maryammoarefian says:

    Thank you for your post! Sense of belonging is a perfect point you mentioned in your post. Technology and social media made a new culture in today’s generation, everything should be happened by clicking a bottom! However, developing a sense of belonging to a new community is a gradual process. In my opinion, technology is helpful in connecting diverse communities but not adequate.

  1. i think that only me who think abt this issues…
    just feel like im not belong here, trap in the somebody’s fate

    ibrahim1altasan says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. There are two things you have mentioned stood out to me. First, it is important in our modern world to consider Inclusion and diversity as for granted specifically that the technologies exposed many people to the variety of cultures, ethnicity, and race around the globe. Second, being raised in a country with many cultures, traditions, and languages may give its people a deeper awareness of the importance of inclusion and diversity. That is because it will be build up in one’s personality since early childhood which would made someone to grow up with views of how our world is different and how people come from different backgrounds. Frankly, your story reminded me with the importance of cultivating respect to others’ background from the early childhood stage, so our new generations would have that respect and understanding of others for granted when they grow up.

  2. Sorry for your terrible experience in the lab you referenced. The practice therein was utterly exclusive and should have no existence within the academic space. I like to hinge on the point you mentioned about sense of belonging given the importance of same to adaptation. Without feeling a sense of belonging, it would be impossible to adapt. Furthermore as a student, it would certainly affect your mentality and your studies. In a recent study conducted by my research team on first-year international students, sense of belonging was the theory that underpinned the study and provided a better path of how institutions could ease adaptation of students to enable them to succeed academically within a new context other than their countries of origin.

  3. It is unfortunate that you had to leave the work you like because your lab mates failed to realize how their group was making you feel excluded. I think that’s why it is really important that we reflect on our actions. Like at the end of the day rewind things we did, and think, “how did my actions impact the people I interacted with”. Had you lab mates learnt to empathize, those incidents wouldn’t have happened. I hope it was unintentional and I hope they get to take this class or courses like this!

  4. Thanks for sharing, Jyotirmoy. I am sorry you had to leave your lab. It really grinds my gears that you lost out on an educational and personal growth opportunity simply because you did not feel welcome in your environment. This is also not the first time I have heard something like this happening. It leads me to remind myself that inclusion is not just a student-teacher relationship, but student-student as well. As future educators, we must remember to not only practice inclusion, but talk to our students about how they can use it to benefit from each other. Do you think if the professor had prefaced the lab with a lecture or exercise on inclusion things would have ended differently?

    • Hi Cristina,
      Its really difficult at this stage to make everyone understand what inclusion is all about unless they are wiling to understand it themselves. I feel, a Professor should hire a diverse set of students to avoid such issues.

  5. I really appreciate your definition of what inclusive pedagogy should be: “Helping students develop a mindset where they can be who they are and would like to know others for who they are.” It seems like the first part of that comes much easier than the second part. As teachers, we can help make students feel comfortable and welcome so they can be themselves, but how do we get them to want to truly know others? Is it something we can instill, or a set personality trait? Either way, I agree that it is a crucial part of creating an inclusive learning space.

    Stephanie Atallah says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I completely agree with you that we should view diversity as a forte and not necessarily look for people that look or behave like us. Having the ability to learn new languages and be exposed to new cultures is what diversity is all about. I am sorry that you felt like an outsider in your previous work and I completely understand how uncomfortable it can be if people around you are not making you feel included especially where there is a language barrier. However, I do think that it is not only the faculty’s job but also every individual (Student/ administrative staff, etc.) to build a more inclusive environment and enforce a sense of belonging.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience. I completely agree with you that we should view diversity as a forte and not necessarily look for people that look or behave like us. Having the ability to learn new languages and be exposed to new cultures is what diversity is all about. I am sorry that you felt like an outsider in your previous work and I completely understand how uncomfortable it can be if people around you are not making you feel included especially where there is a language barrier. However, I do think that it is not only the faculty’s job but also every individual (Student/ administrative staff, etc.) to build a more inclusive environment and enforce a sense of belonging.

  7. Hi,

    I totally understand you. I’m afraid that unfortunately reaching a point where we do not have to talk about is a utopia. Somebody ask Eduardo Galeano what the goal is then, is this a utopia and utopia is unreachable what to worry about it. Galiano answer that the utopia is far away in the horizon, and as you try to reach it is always far away from you, but if you look back, you will see you have advanced a lot trying to achieve it.
    As animals, we tend to group ourselves, protect territories, define frontiers, differences, categorize. But like humans, the reason should bring us towards the utopia of an inclusive world.

  8. Your blog is very insightful. Being exposed to different beliefs and living in another country already widens your perspectives. Although India has made some progress (Article 15), inclusion still seems to be an issue. Belonging to a higher caste does not mean that inclusion should not be discussed any longer.
    Until most people stop believing that race, sex, religion or secularism, etc. are ways to exclude people, inclusiveness will continue to be a problem. Speaking a different language within a working group creates the opposite effect of inclusion. Therefore, there must be a balance and an agreement on what inclusiveness and representation should be and what is acceptable under that label.
    On a side note, recently, I had the opportunity to travel to a French speaking country and my French is extremely, let’s just be generous and call it rusty. When I tried to communicate and the conversation recipient did not speak English of Spanish, I got out my phone, open the translator app and talked with them in their own language. I believe that is one the many ways inclusivity can be addressed.

    readyornothereweblog says:

    You make a good point about how, whether a group means to or not, it can be easy to exclude someone by accident when there is a language barrier. Without a universal way to communicate we are at the mercy of the personal lenses that each of us perceive the world through due to our unique upbringings and beliefs. The first example that comes to my mind is the handshake, and how when you meet someone in America it’s custom to shake their hand, while in other cultures touching hands to greet people might only be reserved for close friends and loved ones. Bridging the communication gap is a difficult hurdle to overcome, especially in a diverse setting like Virginia Tech that has a large international presence.

  9. You talked about the sense of belonging in the classroom or office. I understand your point because I have been on both sides; I experienced it when students from the same country were talking or when I was talking to people from my country in the office. Even if people don’t talk about you it gives a sense of not belonging there. But, who is responsible for that sense of belonging in a classroom or office?

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