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Inclusion: How I Am Reminded It’s a Mindset

Posted By Raymond D. FeDora, III | he, him, his, Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Inclusion: How I Am Reminded It’s a Mindset

Author: Raymond D. FeDora, III | he, him, his | Wilkes University

 

I committed to writing this blog post months ago while attending the MACUHO Summer Summit* and I initially thought, “Ok, October is coming out month. I am gay. This makes sense. I can write about the coming out experience.” However, as so often happens in student affairs and higher education, a monkey wrench was thrown into that plan as a recent experience diverted my attention to a new topic that inspired me in a whole new way.  

Just a few weeks ago, I participated in a University Conduct Board where two international students, one from Saudi Arabia and one from Kuwait, were facing conduct charges after being involved in a physical altercation with a town member. According to the students, this “townie” yelled at them from his vehicle as they were walking down the sidewalk. They yelled back and the townie got out of his vehicle and pushed one of the two students. This resulted in a physical altercation that ended with two staff member witnesses watching the students kick the townie who was on the ground. The townie got up, jumped in his vehicle, and drove away.

In this case, however, I could not help but consider how these students’ social identities and experiences informed how they reacted in this situation. I thought to myself, “Gee, I wonder if this has ever happened to them before? I wonder, if these students were in their home countries, how would they have reacted? Been expected to react?” In that short time with these two students, I could not help but wonder if that would have happened to me. In what ways does my privilege as a white man protect me from experiencing something similar? As a marginalized group, I can only hypothesize what must have been running through the minds of these two students. Would I have responded in the same way?

During the deliberation that took place among the committee, it was clear that these students’ cultural and social experiences were not something the committee had initially considered. We debated for well over an hour about how these students’ international status and socialization should impact our committee’s decision on whether they violated the student handbook and should be sanctioned. I was adamant in helping the committee better understand how these students went into autopilot when they were threatened and that autopilot is influenced by social and ethic identities and experiences. Now, please let me be clear, a student’s past experience, socialization, or cultural beliefs are not a carte blanche free pass to do whatever they’d like on campus. However, in periods of high stress or when a student is provoked, we have to take their cultural and social experiences into account in explaining how they react to certain situations.

I asked the students about their experience. Turns out, these students are verbally assaulted by “townies” on a regular basis being told, “Go back to your own country!” among some other nasty, racially-charged epithets. The remorse on their faces and in their behavior was obvious as they went on to tell us their parents were upset this happened to them and they had their parents’ full support. I probed further, asking about how they would have been expected to react at home. They shared that they were confident the law would have supported them in their claims of self-defense.

I am no expert in Suadi and Kuwati cultural norms, but I can ask. Our diversity and inclusion efforts are incredibly visible in our campus celebrations, cultural food nights, and winter holiday events that try so hard not to be Christmas events. Safe Zone programs and Diversity Leadership Certificates are important initiatives on campus that demonstrate our institutional commitment to supporting and educating students from all backgrounds. However, when the chips are down, are we really ensuring that all of our interactions are sensitive to inclusion and equity? This conduct hearing was a stern reminder that we cannot turn our inclusion and equity efforts on and off when it is convenient. We must be focused on always asking ourselves how a student’s marginalized identities impact this situation and how is my privilege going to erase that experience from consideration?

I do not have an answer based on research and verified through experimentation and scientific practice. I can only encourage you to ask yourself each and every day, in each and every student interaction, “How is my privilege impacting how I am viewing this situation? How has power and privilege marginalized this student in front of me?”

 

*Which if you’ve never been to a MACUHO Summer Summit, you really ought to – it was cool to see how the leadership of MACUHO functions to direct the association forward!

Tags:  conduct  culture  equity  inclusion 

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