Recently, I’ve been thinking about the terms diversity and inclusion – how they are used, what they mean and how they are connected. My reflections have evolved over the years and rather than write a long narrative with historical perspective, I will be brief. In terms of which comes first, I will argue that it is inclusion that should be mentioned first and thereby guide our thinking and actions.
Diversity and inclusion are words that do have historical significance and context; at least dating back in the mid 20th century. Diversity tended to be defined in terms of gender and race initially and recently more broadly in terms of the multiple and intersecting human social identities (e.g., age, LGBTQ, ability, religion, country of origin). As a term, diversity has often been focused on difference as well as the value that these differences bring.
Inclusion in the 20th century was commonly associated with mainstreaming and integrating children with disabilities into regular schools (e.g., PL 94-142 Education of all Handicapped Children’s Act). Inclusion has taken on a broader meaning today in the higher education landscape especially inclusive excellence and inclusive pedagogy. Through my higher education lens, inclusion must be defined as active, intentional and ongoing engagement with the full range of diversity topics and the multiple social identities in the curriculum and community. Inclusion is about changing the culture so that individuals could be and are included. It’s about having choice and choices. An “inclusion” approach (attitude and actions) empowers the creation of welcoming, affirming and diverse communities.
We hear frequently diversity and inclusion used together and usually in that order. But I believe that our philosophical approach and actions should focus on inclusion and the creation and sustainability of inclusive affirming environments. Obviously we must incorporate both – inclusion and diversity – but here’s my main point. If we are truly inclusive (attitude, actions) we will be diverse. If we focus primarily on diversity, inclusion doesn’t always follow. As administrators, faculty, staff and students we should focus “on being inclusive”.
p.s. Virginia Tech Graduate School will begin the 3- year implementation of a new inclusion and diversity requirement for graduate students starting Fall 2018.