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?”