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Cultural Awareness and Inclusion

This week’s message for first-year families is about cultural awareness and inclusion.  Why does this matter?  Your students are calling Wake Forest home for the next 3 1/2 years, and home ought to feel like a place where everyone is valued, respected, treated with dignity, and included in the community.  So it is up to each of our students to do his or her part to make this community all it can be so that it feels good to everyone.

Wake Forest has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and their website has a good explanation of what diversity and inclusion are and why they are important.

Diversity Is The Mix and Inclusion Is Making The Mix Work. More formally, diversity is the composition of individuals in a group. Inclusion is the requisite programs and organizational strategies that welcome and embrace the strengths each person brings to the mix.

Why We Value Diversity and Inclusion At Wake Forest:

Wake Forest believes in providing a diverse learning community to develop the whole person – intellectually, morally, spiritually and physically. Our motto, Pro Humanitate, and our mission for academic excellence guide the university’s intellectual and co-curricular pursuits. It also reflects the university’s emphasis on the importance of values, ideals and community service. The heightened awareness and acceptance of difference through diversity and inclusion initiatives underscores the university’s commitment to make sure we shape informed leaders ready to serve humanity.

Diversity and inclusion creates engagement. When diversity and inclusion are practiced, faculty, staff and students demonstrate engagement by promoting the university, supporting the mission and committing to do their best.  Wake Forest maintains a diverse and inclusive environment to enable all participants to contribute their full potential in pursuit of University objectives and personal success.  This involves celebrating various cultures, religions, ethnicities and bounded social identities in our community; infusing inclusive excellence into our faculty initiatives; offering curricula that are reflective of a global society; and developing cultural competence education programs that equip our students, faculty and staff with skills and knowledge to become global citizens.

It is imperative to provide students an example of the world they will be called upon to lead. Our students must learn to respect others, appreciate and understand diversity and value differences as positive keys to the academic, socio-political and economic stability of this country and the world. The United States population comprises only five percent of the global population. To this end, affirming diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence is an important measure to ensure the Wake Forest community remains strong and relevant in a time when demographics and global society are shifting dramatically.  We want our students, faculty, and staff to possess the necessary attributes to influence individuals, groups, organizations, and systems that are unlike their own.”

That last point cannot be stressed enough.  For Wake Forest students to not only succeed but lead as they embark on their careers and lives after Wake Forest, they must be competent in understanding differences across groups and sensitive to working effectively with all people.   The more they can experience different people, backgrounds, cultures, etc. now, the better prepared they will be to take their place as post-graduate leaders.

So what should your students be thinking about and doing now?  First of all, get to know people across a wide variety of experiences/social groups at Wake Forest.  Don’t just stay in one little bubble – get to know that international student, or have coffee with someone of a different race or sexual orientation or religion.  The more our students meet people who are “different” than they are – and can find similarities and shared experiences – the less “different” that person will seem.

Second, get involved on activities on campus that support an inclusive environment.  Attend a lecture or program that discusses a different part of the globe or a different cultural perspective.  Consider taking a class that explores global or cross-cultural perspectives.

Third, each student can commit to treating other members of this campus with dignity and respect.  Every day, in every way, no matter what.  There was a great Dignity and Respect campaign in October 2013.  The resource materials are still online, and students can access them here.  And if a student hears intolerant speech or slurs against any group, challenge it.  Don’t be a silent partner to bad treatment of other members of our campus community.  Stand up for other people and role model understanding and respect.   Our campus members will not all agree on everything – there are differences in politics and ideology and religion and social issues and more – but we can agree to live in harmony.  And that starts with each and every student.

So – encourage your student to try new things, meet new people, challenge old assumptions.  It is not only the right thing to do from a human being perspective, but it will also help prepare them to be effective leaders and community members for the rest of their lives.