True Excellence

Photo is of MLK's birthplace.
Photo by L. Laguna

The photo above is Dr. King’s Birth Home. I took it when I visited Atlanta in 2018. If this trip sounds familiar to you, it is because I mentioned it in the post What Will You Do with Your Power?

I purposely chose Atlanta for a trip because I felt the need for inspiration, and Atlanta has a wide selection of landmarks that show the progress that has been made in civil and human rights in the United States and around the world. When I reflect on that trip, I start to consider how society, particularly the workforce, has evolved (or not) since Dr. King’s era.

As I mentioned in a previous post, employers across the country are rethinking how they approach DEI in light of the killing of George Floyd and many others. I currently work in higher education, and a commonly used term in DEI discussions is inclusive excellence.

The American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) developed the Inclusive Excellence Model with initial funding by the Ford Foundation. According to the AAC&U, the definition of inclusive excellence consists of four primary components:

  1. A focus on student intellectual and social development.
  2. A purposeful development and utilization of organizational resources to enhance student learning.
  3. Attention to the cultural differences learners bring to the educational experience and that enhance the enterprise.
  4. A welcoming community that engages all of its diversity in the service of student and organizational learning.

As stated on the AAC&U’s website, this inclusive excellence initiative was “designed to help campuses: (a) integrate their diversity and quality efforts, (b) situate this work at the core of institutional functioning, and (c) realize the educational benefits available to students and to the institution when this integration is done well and is sustained over time.”

Considering the times in which we live, many institutions of higher education are prioritizing inclusive excellence. However, sometimes at the most basic levels, it is not clear if everyone quite understands what inclusive excellence means.

I was speaking to a professional contact, and she mentioned how awkward her manager gets when terms like diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, or inclusive excellence are raised in a dialogue about their department’s programming. In one minute, her manager will say that inclusive excellence is important; then in the next minute, her manager will say that they cannot just pick and choose people for certain roles based on identity alone. That last part of the previous sentence really struck me. It is interesting that the manager in this story reflects on terms like inclusive excellence, and this person’s default reaction is to think that certain people will take on roles based on identity alone. After listening to my contact’s story, it made me wonder if her manager actually understood what inclusive excellence meant.

Had her manager taken time to read the AAC&U’s resources on inclusive excellence? Was she familiar with its four primary elements? … Are you?

When you are speaking the language of DEI, have you taken initiative to research the terms and understand the contexts and intentions with which they were developed?

It is vital for us to hold ourselves and each other accountable for educating ourselves properly on the language of DEI, or our DEI initiatives will not advance in a meaningful way.

When I reflect on the default reaction of my contact’s manager to the term inclusive excellence, I cannot help but wonder how many other people in the workforce are using terminology they do not completely comprehend.

It has been nine months since the reckoning with racism was ignited in the United States. Since then, there have been all of these public statements, think pieces, panels, workshops, and initiatives to support inclusive excellence in higher education. What is the point of all of these publications and events if people do not take time to educate themselves on simple concepts and practices related to inclusive excellence?

Let this post be your reminder: Whether you work in higher education or not, you likely belong to a field where some version of inclusive excellence is being promoted. Please take time to clarify what the elements, intentions, and goals of these initiatives mean when you engage in dialogues about them.

This sounds so simple, but if it were simple, this racial reckoning would not have unfolded the way it has in the last nine months.

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