Uniting to Create the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Course
UWC alumni Bertha, Hayley and Marcos are three of the youngest members of a team of 13 alumni and non-alumni authors, spanning across five UWC schools and many more generations (from the class of 2020 to the class of 2003), who collaborated to create the first UWC movement-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Course. The experienced team was brought together by Critical Engagement, a UWCx initiative that draws on 12 years of experience working on courses that they deliver in UWC and externally. In their usual approach to designing and delivering workshops and courses, the younger alumni worked with experienced professionals in true partnership. Work on the course began back in July after it had become clear once more that the current level of education on racial injustices and other forms of inequity was not enough to address and prevent ongoing manifestations of oppression and white supremacy within wider society and even within our own UWC communities. More needed to be done.
“In helping to create the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) course, I wanted to contribute to an effort which upholds the UWC value system. I aimed to echo the social investments which have been made in me by my UWC education, to contribute to the creation of an environment which is more sensitive to and inclusive of all the sociopolitical identities represented on UWC campuses. I want to play my part in ensuring that we, as a movement, continue to hold ourselves accountable to relentless efforts to dismantle structures which are selective in their regard for humanity.” - Bertha from Namibia, UWC Changshu China, 2018-2020.
“I wanted to create something different, to make the change I wanted to make when I was at UWC. I felt that there was so much to be said, and I didn’t know how to say it for so long; and when I finally did, I wanted to make sure that every UWCer after me has the words to say what they mean. Moreover, I wanted to make sure that those words would be heard.” - Hayley from Jamaica, UWC Maastricht, 2018-2020
“My aim was simple: I wanted to help foster critical thinking for youth to work collaboratively and defy the power structures and oppressive dynamics within themselves, their communities, and their current educational institutions.” - Marcos from Chile, UWC Changshu China, 2018-2020
The course is split into three modules: Diversity (which Hayley was involved in co-designing with lead Cicely Belle Blain), Equity (Bertha co-designed this with lead Peter Sutoris) and Inclusion (Marcos was a co-designer with Sophie Mak-Schram as lead). The team gave a quick overview of what each of the modules seek to explore:
"This module is a rich and thorough exploration of what it means to live in a diverse community and how we might fit into it. We look at Bias, Privilege, Systemic Oppression, Personal Identity and Community through a variety of exercises, thought experiments and discussions. This module, like every other module, aims to spark a deep personal reflection that gives way to understanding everyone in the room with you." - Hayley
"In this piece, we explore equity as ‘the quality of being fair or impartial’, while considering the role of colonialism and contemporary globalization. The content on Equity prompts us all to not only reflect on the roles we play in actualizing more equitable communities, but also to develop a socio-emotional capacity to introspect and exercise consistent personal accountability. This module is explored through the lenses of the past, the present and the future." - Bertha
"This module unpacks the concept of inclusion in a way that presents us human beings as equals in the construction of common knowledge and community. It defies the idea of ‘inviting others to the table’ and presents an opportunity to self-reflect on and practice how, together, we can build a big table at which everyone already has a seat." - Marcos
The considerations involved in designing and deciding which key areas to focus on throughout the course stretched far and wide, as Bertha comments, “It was amazing to see the amount of time and effort that goes into creating content of this nature.” The core guiding principles that led the team centred around creating a space to reflect openly and honestly on the topics discussed; to accommodate varying degrees of familiarity with the subject matter; to empower participants to play an active role in building more diverse, equitable and inclusive communities; and to root the course in realistic and easily identifiable social phenomena. Hayley added: “I wanted everyone to know we all have our flaws, our own personal failings and ignorances. Once participants complete the course, which we put so much care and love into, I hope they have learnt that, above all, we are all on a journey of growth, we just need to listen and be heard. That is at the core of our community, and we need to protect that.”
Reflecting on the experience of uniting across multiple generations and UWC affiliations to create the course, the three agreed that they were pleasantly surprised by the fluidity and natural synthesis that bonded all team members, as Bertha shared, “there was an unspoken understanding of the importance of the work we were doing. We were all equally committed, which made the process seamless and engaging.” And as the youngest members of the team, Bertha, Marcos and Hayley were pleased to see the equal value that was attached to each of the team members’ input, regardless of age: “I think that the creative process of this course is a great example of how to challenge the barriers of credentialism and ageism in education. Having perspectives and lived experiences from different generations in the team brought an intersectional lens to our work, and especially influenced how the course approaches facilitating, mentoring and educating the youth who will be taking it”, shared Marcos. As UWC alumni - an affiliation which includes 11 of the 13 co-authors of the course - the three also added that this was an important factor that contributed to the special responsibility and insights that both pushed and equipped Bertha, Marcos and Hayley to “effect the change that they would have wished to experience during their time at UWC.”
In the spirit of ‘uniting’, the team ended the discussion with closing thoughts on this year’s UWC Day theme, ‘United We Can’:
"As many countries, cities and schools are coming to terms with their own injustices, today, more than ever before, we need to be kind, caring and considerate of everyone around us. This course is all about that. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is about working together to be the most kind, caring and considerate versions of ourselves."
"This theme speaks directly to the essence of the work we’ve been doing. It’s a demanding process which requires us to be tremendously empathetic and generous in our expectation of human willingness to unlearn problematic world views. That means, in times of individual weakness, we have to be able to turn to each other for all kinds of support. More generally, the theme speaks to the urgency which needs to accompany our observations of the intensification of inequality during a global pandemic. A collective approach to dismantling systems which strategically marginalise communities is the only way to accomplish meaningful, lasting change."
"This theme presents an opportunity for our movement to create plans of action, guided by collaboration, empathy and constructive discussion. It is fundamental that all stakeholders, united, work on finding ways to defy the harm that current social norms create in the globalised world. Our societies are divided and full of hate because the relevance of having insightful discussions and effective modes of collaboration has been replaced with the productivity-focused and individualistic dynamics of capitalism and neoliberalism. We shall work hard to make youth a force for unity, and I think that the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion course provides good foundations to start doing so at our campuses - the next step will be ensuring that it transcends into wider society."
All authors: Pooja Shahani, Cicely Belle Blain, Peter Sutoris, Bruno della Chiesa, Bertha Tobias, Iwan Brioc, Kip Kiprop, Marcos Pacheco Soto, Sophie Mak-Schram, Maheerah Syed Haizir, Hayley Headley, Cassandra Poyiadjis-Osler, Ellora Adam.
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion course has now been shared with all UWC schools and colleges. It will also be adapted for the UWC Global Campus, the new UWC movement-wide online learning platform, ready to onboard future students online. Critical Engagement has delivered this course and others in many UWCs and are available for ongoing support to all schools and colleges.