I contextualize my approach to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in an educational environment by thinking about belonging and meaning-making. Acknowledging and making diverse and inclusive spaces comes down to making space for people to be their whole selves and incorporate the fullness of their identities into their workspace or classroom. In short, it is about making sure that they feel like they belong in their classroom, and that they belong as they are without compromising any aspect of their identity.
Coming out of my Teaching Philosophy, which claims that "a checklist isn't an education," belonging and meaning-making are essential parts of the educational process because they move us beyond the framework of a checklist. And, in turn, DEIA is an essential part of the educational process. My approach to teaching argues that education is not just comprised of formal learning of content (checking items off a list to pass a course), but rather happens when studnets have the chance to build connections between what they are learning about and their own life and context. When this happens, students and professors together define the purpose of the content as it relates to their careers, lives, and place in the world. Learning environments where students and instructors have a sense of belonging in the fullness of their identity are a key part of this process because they help bridge content with our immediate personal contexts to make meaning form our learning. If someone cannot safely express an aspect of their sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, social class, etc. in the space of the classroom, then they have an immediate barrier to education and are forced into the framework of a "checklist."
Creating these types of learning environments by necessity is not always going to be comfortable for everyone. There will always be moments and environments where we are ignorant and will have to become uncomfortable to learn more. Yet, if 20% of learning is defined by our interactions with others (70:20:10 Model of Learning and Development), those uncomfortable moments become essential to the learning process as well. By creating spaces where people have a sense of belonging in every aspect of their identity, we not only make space for them to learn by making connections between the course content and their personal identity, we also make space for our own learning in our interactions with them.
As an instructor, both of these elements became very real for me when I had the chance to TA a course on the Introduction to African American Studies. As a gay, white male I was very conscious of the fact that I was entering a position where I would be teaching about a culture that was not my own and one I had very limited knowledge about. As a gay guy, I was uncomfortable because I had experienced allies teaching about my identity and knew that it did not feel the same as when I saw a fellow-LGBTQ person in that role. As a white person, I was very uncomfortable because I worried I would not know what to say and would likely make many mistakes. I was not sure how to create a sense of belonging for my students or myself in that space. Fortunately, I was in a course on Teaching and Diversity and the instructor encouraged me to think about that discomfort as part of the experience of diversity I was bringing into the classroom. In turn, I took this as an opportunity to learn more about African American Studies, even as I was working as a TA. By doing so, I attempted to create a space of belonging for myself, acknowledging the discomfort and gaps in my knowledge because of my experience in the world, and creating a space of belonging for others to share theirs as one way I could address the gaps in my experience. This often required a practice of proactive authenticity on my part, being open to share my experiences, where there were gaps in my knowledge, and when I made mistakes. I believe this example on my part encourages students to authentically share their own experiences as they recognize they are in a safe learning environment. Beyond leaving my Introduction to African American Studies class knowing more about African American history or literature, as a class we could shape what that knowledge would mean for us as we cultivated a practice of making space for belonging through authenticity.