Inclusive Teaching and Inclusive Communities

I had the privilege of attending VCU’s Institute for Inclusive Teaching last week. It was a week dedicated to exploring how we can make our classrooms and our universities more inclusive spaces. It’s a much needed discussion. Universities across the nation are raising tuition and becoming less accessible to those students who most need and deserve access — students in underfunded schools, schools where kids are more likely to see the inside of a detention center than the inside of a classroom.

It was a hard week. I think all our our participants walked away understanding how much work needs to be done, both on our selves and in our communities. We also walked away with a lot of questions. What can I do? More importantly, what should I do, considering my relative lack of knowledge? One risk of privilege is the inevitable belief that you know best, or worse, that because you have power you should wield it.

I have power, but how do I use it? This is the central question I left with this week. I take this question seriously. I am often empowered to take action that will impact others, but often this means I can impact people who live in different communities than I do, people with different needs, priorities, cultures, and values. While I believe I’m responsible for making my communities better places, I don’t believe I should be in a position to make choices on behalf of people who aren’t at the table.

Part of what I love about our facilitation process at the AUJ is the reduced power of the facilitator. Restorative Justice is practiced in many locations with many different approaches. I chose this organization because as a facilitator I have less power to act in a prescriptive capacity. I can’t lead participants to decide what outcomes are best for them. I can’t identify guilty parties. I’m not empowered over participants. As a facilitator, I simply hold a safe place where participants of a circle can identify the power they wish to have.

As I was thinking about these questions this week, I found this video about Hope In the Cities’s “Unpacking the 2010 Richmond Census” project.

I love the project. I teach the 2010 Richmond Census in my classes, using the New York Times‘s census visualization project. It’s a great way to help students really see the city they live in and begin to understand their role in it. This conversation can be overwhelming, and it often leaves students wondering what they can do and what is the right thing to do. Here’s the advice given in the video above:

  1. Support bus routes that go where jobs are
  2. Host discussions for the women of Gilpin Court and Windsor Farms together
  3. Work with community gardens to address hunger
  4. Pay a living wage to someone you employ
  5. Build relationships with people from different backgrounds
  6. Make the choice to get involved in the community
  7. Ask where are those who are not at the table

I love the self-responsibility in this list. I’m not put in a position to make choices for others, but I am required to ensure they’re at the table when choices get made. If everyone in Richmond did just one of numbers 1, 4, and 7, we’d live in an entirely different city.

Here’s a list of some of the incredible partners represented at the institute:

A full list of speakers is posted here. And here are a few readings I took from the institute that helped me better assess what inclusivity might mean:

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