There has been much talk in the past few months about Inclusive Excellence (IE) on campus. This label (if I might call it so) has become widely used on campuses across the country to discuss diversity and how campuses, colleges, and departments pursue excellence according to their own diverse standards, while ensuring that this pursuit includes people from all sectors of society. If until now most schools and work environments have talked about fostering diversity, the belief goes, now it is time not only to represent this diversity in the compositions of our workforce, but to ensure that those who allow us to claim we are diverse are brought to the table and included in how we model excellence (see: https://www.aacu.org/making-excellence-inclusive).
The process has had some bumps in its implementation. Because the initiative for addressing how we ‘do’ IE came from Regent Hall, there were reservations, especially among the faculty, that this was a top-down initiative that did not have the input of the campus as a whole. Then there was the timeline, which many judged to be inappropriate, because it required that units throughout campus engage in discussions that would produce 2 page definitions of what IE means for each of them. Some units chafed at the request, claiming that this would become another empty rhetorical exercise, during which streams of words would flow, but concrete applications would not.
I am on the Inclusive Excellence Strategic Planning committee. When I first joined the working group, the first thing I said, in concert with the above, was that we could not have an unfunded mandate: if we want to address IE, we need to put some muscle behind it. I still believe that this is true. That said, I also realized I was ignorant of what was already been done throughout the campus to address these issues: for example, the Chancellor is sponsoring a new post-doc program to increase diversity, while the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement (ODECE) had already been sponsoring campus visits from underrepresented students from inner city schools and lower income neighborhoods; and it contributed financially to the recruitment of a more diverse graduate student body in the STEM fields. Our own college has renewed its support of Women Studies and Ethnic Studies, by shepherding the transition of the first to department status, and adding a graduate component to the latter; and it has given financial backing to the Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies, among other ‘diverse’ initiatives.
Let’s not assume that because we know and care about one person of color, we know all of them and their experiences; or that the blue-eyed, blond-haired colleague must, implicitly, be the child of privilege (s/he often is not).”
With time I realized how naïve my positions have been. For one, and maybe because of where I come from, IE for me represented simply the perspective of faculty and students: we want more diverse faculty, we want a more diverse student body. How can we get more of the first, how do we ensure that we make the latter welcome in our courses and our institution? A campus climate that was just released showed that African-American students feel targeted, excluded and discriminated against on campus. Faculty of color feel equally squeezed, often because they are the singly represented in their units, and because they become the token representatives who must divide these single bodies into multiple service requirements, when the rest of us feel the need to be ‘inclusive.’ I will not shortchange the almost automatic equivalence between IE and race. We naturally flow to that, and it certainly has a deadly and fraught history in this country. But IE is not exclusively about race. It is also about class, physical ability, creed, politics and, since we are a university, about knowledge. Most of all, it is about empathy.
Too often we lack empathy to realize how many people, and from how many varied backgrounds, work with us. We often think that what we do is excellent and special that we forget that others are equally committed to provide their own brand of excellence and ‘specialness.’ IE is an empty goal without taking into account who these ‘others’ are and what they do with/for us. Just as it is useless to think that we can speak for IE if we are so staunchly embedded in our own beliefs not to acknowledge the excellence of other people’s lives.
For example, what struck me from the beginning is that most discussions about IE left out staff. And I don’t mean administrative staff. I mean custodial, dining services, and janitorial staff, and any of the many human beings who work behind the scenes, and often clean up the messes we leave behind. Who are they? Do we know their names? Do we ‘include’ them in what we do, reflect on how their work contributes to our excellence, and thank them for helping us out? When students in one of our Residential Academic Programs insulted people of other ethnicities, the CU-Dialogues group (http://www.colorado.edu/cudialogues/community-dialogues) brought in janitorial staffers to participate in a conversation about their invisibility and the hurt that such comments caused them. They had no idea. Generally, we have no idea either.
I am not being naïve: results, and therefore ‘quantifiables,’ are necessary. But there is more to the process. Let’s not assume that because we know and care about one person of color, we know all of them and their experiences; or that the blue-eyed, blond-haired colleague must, implicitly, be the child of privilege (s/he often is not).
As I embark in this process, the challenge is to think of IE beyond the confines of what I know, and move into unknown areas that I seldom explore. It is not to think of IE exclusively in terms of numbers and check boxes, but in terms of relationships. For me, it is to remember always what the Roman (of North African origins) playwright Terence once said: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. “I am a human being; therefore, I consider nothing that is human to be alien to me.” We all matter, we all make this university an excellent place to be. The goal is to truly believe it.
March 26, 2016