InterAction envisions a world where all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential in their inclusive campus communities. We hope you share this vision with us. But what threatens inclusion? And how do you prepare students against that threat?
First, let’s take a step back. The Association of American Colleges and Universities defines inclusion as “the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity.” We, at InterAction, understand diversity as social identity differences in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, class, ability, religion, language, and others.
What is the opposite of inclusion? The simple answer is exclusion. And exclusion comes in many shades and forms. Exclusion is a large umbrella that includes micro-aggressions, discrimination, and systematic oppression.
Recently, the way colleges campuses and students have become a target of “alt-right” groups concerns us. Southern Poverty Law Center writes about the emergence and rebranding of white-supremacy and fascism as “alt-right” in 2008. Before Charlottesville, there was a lead up of conservative student groups on colleges campuses hosting “alt-right”, neo-Nazi, white nationalist, white separatist, and racist speakers. Far-right conservative activism has also launched with agitators and young former students galvanizing college campuses.
Extremist ideologies centering on exclusion are possible because they simplify the world with one story, which is supposed to speak for all of us. For example, the ideology of white supremacy builds on a one-dimensional narrative that white people are superior with the intent of obtaining and maintaining power for this status quo group. This one narrow story is historically tied with power and is used to justify wrongdoings of past and sparks hate crimes in the current day. Moreover, this one story silences the realities of the historically marginalized populations.
Growing extremism poses an immense threat to inclusive practices. But also, exclusion occurs independently of intentional extremism and prejudice every day, especially, when we do not listen to the realities of others and assess our own privilege. An example would be how my privilege of being an able-bodied woman lets me move through spaces without thinking twice about it. Without listening to the experiences of those excluded from this experience, I would not realize what the world is like for others. If I held on to only our story as the one story to understand the world, I would not see what is wrong with the ableist world.
What should we do about it?
We have to become conscious of the dominant narratives (the single stories) at work. Our specific history has valued most and continues to value most the able-bodied, Christian, cisgendered, heterosexual, white, English speaking men. These privileges, or “special advantages or immunity or benefit not enjoyed by all,” when unchecked, marginalize the experiences and achievements of those who do not fit into such categories. This landscape of our society is also shaped by our US history of the genocide of Indigenous people, enslavement of African people, colonization and continued imperialism of countless countries.
Starting from this point onward, how do we uproot the sources of exclusion, such as white supremacy, settler colonialism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, US imperialism, sexism, and ableism?
We have to begin by grappling with complexity.
Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi talked about The Danger of the Single Story and consequently the need for multiple stories to challenge the dominant narrative. We must first acknowledge that dominant narratives exist. These dominant narratives portray a limited and exclusive picture of the world. An example would be assuming that a person experiencing homelessness just needs to find a job. This narrow story erases the causes of homelessness, including racial wealth disparity, the lack of family support and security for queer teens, domestic violence among others. These stories that complicate the picture and challenges the single story are counter-narratives.
Through our initiative, Stage for Change, we create the space to push back against the single stories out there. We center and engage a wide range of stories on identity and difference, especially from these critical counter-narratives. Each story complicates the picture of how identity influences the way they are able to move about the world in different ways.
Rather than erasing the complexity, embracing and facing it leads people to think about who they are, what their privileges are, and how they may leverage their privilege to lift others up to the dignity they deserve.
Grappling with complexity works because complexity is the reality of our world. It works because no one story holds all the truths of people’s lived experiences.
Co-founder & Creative Director