Welcome back to the spring semester, first-year families! We’re picking up our series of weekly messages, and this week the topic is Inclusion.
Wikipedia talks about inclusion (particularly in organizational settings) in this way: “Inclusion is an organizational practice and goal stemming from the sociological notion of inclusiveness which is the political action and personal effort but at the same time the presence of inclusion practices in which different groups or individuals having different backgrounds like origin, age, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and identity and other are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed, equally treated, etc.
Miller and Katz (2002) presents a common definition of an inclusive value system where they say, “Inclusion is a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so than you can do your best work.” Inclusion is a shift in organization culture. The process of inclusion engages each individual and makes people feeling valued essential to the success of the organization. Individuals function at full capacity, feel more valued, and included in the organization’s mission. This culture shift creates higher performing organizations where motivation and morale soar.” (full website here).
When we think about inclusion in a campus setting, it can take many forms – including those listed above. The goals of our campus are to allow every member of the campus community to function at his or her best, to be respected and valued, and equally treated.
One of the challenges of college for most first year students is that they are going to encounter people who may be drastically different than themselves. It could be different race, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs, socioeconomic status – you name it. And there can be a tendency for people to socialize and remain within their own ‘identity group’ where they feel most valued and understood. That’s natural. But it also means that if you don’t get to know people outside your comfort zone, with differing experiences and ideas, you may not grow to your full potential.
No one is saying any of our students must completely change their thoughts and ideas by becoming exposed to/friends with people who are very different than their norm. Not at all. But one of the joys of getting to know people from different backgrounds and opinions is that sometimes as you get to know them as human beings, you realize they aren’t [insert stereotype here], but really are interesting people worth knowing, and who can teach you something new.
One of the best things I have ever heard on this campus came from a student, who said (and I am paraphrasing) “every single person on this campus has something to teach me, if I just get to know them.” So in the spirit of inclusion, here are some things that might stretch your first year students in new ways:
- talk to someone after class that you’ve never talked to
- invite a person to lunch or coffee or a discussion
spend time with the hallmate you had never seemed to click with before
- attend a cultural event on campus that is outside your normal comfort zone and meet people there
- be open to hearing someone else’s ideas and beliefs – without challenging them or refuting them; listen to what they are saying and try to understand their opinion
- be attentive to when someone looks lonely or seems to need a friend; while there are many Wake Forest extroverts, there are also introverts for whom it is harder to make the first move toward a social connection
- include new friends from different walks of life in your existing friend circles
- resist the temptation to categorize people by just one attribute: “she’s a Kappa,” “he’s Jewish,” “she’s a lesbian,” “he’s a bleeding heart liberal.” We are all more than just one label. And by refusing to play the game of reducing people to one aspect of their race or identity, we signify that we think of people as people, not as a “black girl” or a “rich guy” or whatever.
- and with sorority recruitment just ending and there are some girls with unhappy outcomes, be particularly attentive to including them in fun activities so they feel like they are still included
One of the benefits of developing an inclusionary mindset now is it can be a competitive hiring advantage later on. Job applicants who can’t seem to relate well to people who are different than they are can be perceived as ill-equipped to manage groups of people, or to lead high-functioning teams. You can be the smartest student on campus, but if you can’t get along with other people, you will likely not be at the top of everyone’s hiring list.
So challenge your students this month to stretch themselves and think about inclusion and how they might fold it into their WFU experience.