Communicating Identity- Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education

Additional blog Post #3

I was so excited to write on this topic in particular, especially considering the importance of diversity I have seen from both sides of higher education. Now that I have been both a student and a teacher, I feel like I have a better understanding of why higher education needs to move forward with diversity initiatives and emphasize the importance of full inclusion for everyone. In both my personal life and my professional life, I have seen the ways that true inclusion is beneficial to everyone.

As a woman with an invisible illness who is in an interracial relationship, I was blind to a lot of my own problematic assumptions about others, and I really credit my significant other with opening my eyes to these with some respectful, eye-opening conversations over the past three years. I always got angry when somebody would ask him “where are you really from?”, and yet I would insert my own assumptions about his life in conversations from time to time without even realizing it. Likewise, as an undergraduate at Christopher Newport University, I was an orientation leader for the Presidents Leadership Program (PLP) and that program gave me experiences with true diversity as well. Over two summers I was in charge of facilitating an orientation for¬† a group of about twenty students, introducing them to the university as well as the leadership minor curriculum. Part of my training included extensive analysis of micro aggressions and biases, and I was so shocked and hurt to find that I was contributing to an exclusive environment at times due to micro aggressions I didn’t even realize.

I feel like the conversations with my partner about little things I was saying, as well as the exercises in my training for orientation really contributed to my education about my own privileges, and helped me have deeper conversations with individuals in the PLP who had different experiences than my own. If universities want to be more diverse and inclusive, they need to first address their own biases and have open conversations about how to improve these behaviors. I hope that in my classroom, my students feel respected and like I want to develop a true understanding of their experiences at Virginia Tech.

For example, when I first showed this photo to a friend, one of the first things they asked is “I know he’s biracial, but what exactly is he?”. That was something I found extremely rude, but I could tell they hadn’t meant it that way. This led to an open conversation about micro aggressions with a close friend, and it went better than i had expected! When he showed the photo to a friend, they commented “well, she doesn’t look sick”. He then had to explain to them about my history with debilitating migraines, and how people don’t have to look sick to be in a lot of pain.

Considering all of these things, I believe that difference does matter. To suggest that somebody does not see color, or background, or sex, or ability, or any combination of these identities is either naive or ignorant. Rather than pretend we do not see others for who they are, I think there should be an emphasis on celebrating our differences, as well as how we can use these differences to teach one another about empathy and collaboration.¬†Within the academic world, I have seen far too often the push toward diversity for diversity sake- I think that is a bit of a misstep. If I got into a program just because the program wanted more women, they are missing out on the various experiences and thoughts and ideas that I have as a result of my intersectional identity. I think if a university is trying to be inclusive and globally diverse, the first way to know if they are succeeding is to ask the students- ALL of the students. Having to explain an invisible illness to a professor is a deeply uncomfortable experience for me, as I often worry they either won’t believe me or will dismiss it as not a big deal. Likewise, individuals with identities considered to be in the minority may have their own challenges communicating their identity in class. Differences matter because, no matter where I am, the person sitting next to me undoubtedly has a completely different life experience that is just as valuable and valid as my own. It is only by sharing our experiences that we can grow, learn, and become better citizens.

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