Every campus makes a commitment to diversity and inclusion. That commitment statement is neither unique nor innovative. What we as educators do to support that commitment in the exploration of identities, teachings, and space creation is what matters most. As educators, we are often seeking to understand our students’ struggles and label that crisis or issue. The challenge is that we cannot see the internal identity experience and the journey that creates them. We will do our best to communicate and explore options with students, but we cannot say that we fully understand. We can respect our students’ feelings and their expressed needs and identities. We can also help guide them to make healthy, positive choices but cannot force it upon them. We “meet students where they are at” to best create a space for self-exploration and identity. What we do not often speak about is how to share that as a mentor for identity exploration. We speak of diversity and inclusion but protest controversy and show fear in the face of discourse. We do not acknowledge our responsibility as professionals to guide intellectual forums that promote identity exploration. We can own that need and embrace the beauty as well as dissonance with more fully developed intersectionality forums.
We are responsible for creating a safe space for engaging students so they can build trust and explore identities. This begins with promoting a positive culture of inclusion through dialogue. Students’ personal stories bring a deeply significant and critical knowledge to educators. Sharing experiences are crucial to opening the dialogue on both privileged and oppressive conceptualizations. We must support this with respect and awareness. Structured dialogues with facilitators are a necessary part of this process. Many times student groups obtain permission to host an event with a controversial speaker, but it does not fully serve the purpose of identity exploration, because protests, threats, or community trolls who seek to pot stir overshadow the event and distract from exploring the story. As educators, we hold a responsibility to provide guidance for students to operationalize these experiences and truly explore intersecting identities. The language used to explore identity should not be one of assured support and respect, rather than safety concerns.
This is to say that a campus event should not be sensationalized for its controversy, danger, or possibility of dramatic events. That goes against the foundations of the learning experiences we promote for positive cultural identity. A structured and guided experience underscores some of the basic processes necessary for the understanding of intersecting identities. This allows for the pre-given identities to be safely shared and further developed to be more inclusive, or at the very least provides an opportunity for students to learn to respect the views of others. The true challenge to diversity and inclusion is educating our students on how to respectfully question, challenge, and engage with diverse thoughts, identities, and backgrounds. All of us need to have a space for true reflection on self while considering our place in the world. We can push past fear and invest in supporting intersecting identities by putting energy towards dialogue.