It is hard to believe that I just finished my first department meeting of the year back at St. Olaf College! It was wonderful to see familiar faces and to meet a few new ones as well. As you can see, my office is slowly coming together (although still in a bit of disarray). Slowly, but surely, things are feeling more alive.
The past week of orientation and meetings have been a major cause for personal reflection about teaching and learning. One of the key threads that wove itself through these intensive few days has been the importance of equity and inclusion, especially as it relates to our classes, our syllabi, and our connections to each other. It is always worthwhile to have these conversations together in community, rather than trying to parse out their meaning in a vacuum. I can’t help but reflect on several tenants provided to us by Rev. Dr. Jaime Washington, who delivered our keynote address. Without giving away all of the richness of his examples and metaphors, I kept going back to an idea he presented us regarding how to understand inclusion in real terms: a house versus a home. He spoke about inviting someone into your house (that you presumably own or pay for) and telling them to make themselves at home. While the words are coming from a heartfelt place, if the visitor changes something in the house, the owner will likely feel a certain kind of way. “I know I told you to make yourself at home, but this is my house!” Our institutions often operate in this manner. Colleges recruit students and faculty of color, tell them to be “at home” as members of the community, but never allow them to truly be at home. Instead, they are outsiders in someone else’s house. The question becomes how to we change this.
He offered us several tenants or ideas that I’ve been reflecting on (and I post them here for fear of losing them):
- Communities are built through building relationships of trust and commitment
- We are all doing the best we can (most of the time).
- We don’t know all there is to know.
- Just because you are, doesn’t mean you understand.
- Oppression is pervasive and impacts us all.
- Not our faults, but we must accept responsibility.
- Conflict and discomfort are often a part of growth.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
- Practice some forgiveness and letting things go.
- Self-work, healing and self love are necessary for acceptance of others.
- There are no quick fixes.
- Individuals and communities do grow and change.
- There is HOPE!
I’m grateful to have the next few days to think through what these things mean for me, my syllabi, and my students. How can I create a classroom that promotes inclusion and equity; a classroom that belongs to the students, rather than one they merely occupy? I’m open to any and all resources that you may have! Just post in the comments below…