So you think you’re diverse? Examining your institution’s diversity and inclusion practice

December 20th, 2019.


On December 11th we had a very successful Webinar on Diversity and Inclusion entitled, “So you think you’re diverse? Examining your institution’s diversity and inclusion practice.”

What surprised me most was the lively dialogue at the end of the presentation, which was supposed to have been a time for Q&A. Everyone was so excited and sharing so much that we could easily have gone on another hour. I want to use this space to share what issues were raised and what people felt passionate about regarding D&I because it demonstrated the need for continued open and honest dialogue and information sharing.

One comment really hit at the core to many and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s an uncommon situation. One of the attendees mentioned that at her university, the international students are separated from the campus in various ways. Many departments refer to these students as “your students” (meaning the international office’s students).

When we label a group of students as one department’s group then we are not including these very valuable students and we are not making them feel a part of the institution as a whole (Inclusion). Often, we lose the chance to reap the benefits of what these students bring to our institution when we do this (Diversity). I implore you, in whatever role you play at your institution, to find ways to include these students to ensure that you and your domestic students learn as much as you can from them, and not to only think that they learn from you.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, ACEI’s President & CEO, talked about how she felt when people asked about her accent and where she’d come from. She felt as though those passersby just wanted to place her somewhere because when she answered, they appeared to not really care. Several participants said they’d felt the same – as if they were being judged or just placed in a box. What I liked about this conversation was that a few others stepped in to ask how she would want to be approached if people were genuinely interested. It demonstrated the kind of discussions we need to be having with each other, because diversity and inclusion must be approached holistically and include the very personal and individual.

The same lively discussion happened when I recounted a story of what my niece had witnessed in Missouri when a clerk refused to sell beer to two black men. She got around selling them the beer by using methods that weren’t legally required (such as asking for ID from the second person not just the buyer). People responded in the chat box as to what they would have done and many were quite assertive. Someone responded asking “but what if you’re shy”? This makes me think we need to have ways for people with all kinds of personalities to address racist situations because when my niece told them she was sorry that they’d gone through that they replied, “It’s OK, we’re used to it.” It’s not OK and we need to find ways to help each other; to be allies.

I could go on and on as there were so many great issues brought up, but I’d like to give those of you who weren’t able to attend some of the takeaways:

  • There are many forms of diversity – visible and invisible
  • Support systems for students are crucial
  • Have your faculty match your intended student body, e.g. faculty and students go hand in hand
  • Have systems in place for inclusion – if able to accomplish in advance that’s even better (wheelchair accessible bathrooms, gender neutral bathrooms, counseling centers, etc.)
  • Most important is to check yourself for your biases. Often. Watch yourself in your own conversations with people because, as I said in the presentation, “we will make mistakes but we will apologize and learn and move on.”

Finally, I’d like to share some of the valuable feedback we received, which confirmed how important and relevant this topic still is. And because it comes directly from the field we know it to be real.

From Marie: Since I also am in the International Education field, my service-learning organization could really benefit from some of the pointers that Kathleen mentioned, like having a staff training focusing on inclusivity and dialogue and also making sure that your mission statement is truly matching the representation of student demographics both on and off the organizations social media pages. It made me realize how we need to be more sensitive when using incorrect or inappropriate language like ‘white trash’, a term I use so freely. I will most definitely be sharing what I learned for the webinar to the rest of my team. Thank you for opening it up to the public, I think there should be more webinars on D&I these days!

From Yuriko: The discussion on webinar was amazing. We are not aware how others might feel or think until we are in the middle of that mess. That is the kind of discussion we have to have around the universities and workplaces. Thank you for providing the webinar.

From Laura: I saw the Diversity Consultant title at yesterday’s webinar (which was excellent and timely) and was very impressed. You’re giving ACEI credibility and showcasing your attention to the entire applied comparative education field, you’re not just limited to credential evaluation. This is extremely important showing ACEI’s dedication to the profession.

For a recording of the webinar, click here. To learn more about ACEI’s Global Consulting Group, click here.

Let’s keep the conversation going in order to truly be a more diverse and inclusive society. Thank you all who attended. We appreciate your time and feedback.

Kathleen Hylen, M.A. International Education Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Graduated with honors from UC, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Community Studies, focus on anti-bias. Kathleen is also a member of ACEI’s Professional Consultancy Team. Her focus is on helping institutions and organizations develop and/or bolster their diversity and inclusion strategies.

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