Diversity and Inclusion in the Nicholas School
by Suzanne Ou -- February 23rd, 2017
Early on a Saturday, a group of 30 Nic schoolers dragged themselves back to school at 9 a.m. – but it was for a good cause. The Diverse and Inclusive Community for the Environment (DICE) arranged a workshop to explore how to foster a welcoming community here at the Nicholas School and develop the facilitation techniques to initiate discussions on diversity.
Led by three professional facilitators, the workshop started off with a one-on-one sharing between neighbors of important events in your life. This was a technique to cut past idle small talk, and develop a personal connection with your peers. While it may seem daunting to open up to a stranger, we found shared experiences to identify with, strengthening the bond which would otherwise be passed over if we kept to questions like “What’s your concentration?”.
Heading straight into the topic, we broke into small groups for ‘Café Conversations’. With facilitators directing questions, we discussed what it meant to be diverse, the challenges that stood in the way of achieving inclusivity, and the solutions.
Undergrads, Masters, Ph.D. students and staff of all backgrounds mixed in very interesting perspectives. Together, we agreed that diversity is often defined by visual elements, such as race and gender. We recognized that the Nicholas School has done well in intentionally diversifying their outreach, and increasingly recruiting students of various nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds. However, we always seek to improve ourselves and acknowledge that more can be done to affirm intersecting identities, including sexual orientation, ethnicity, political leanings and religion. The student body should reflect the school’s pledge to stand against discrimination.
An important aspect of inclusivity is finding communities of common interests. The various student groups at the Nicholas School certainly offer opportunities to connect with your peers. However, most are directed to professional development. The students expressed a desire for more informal gatherings to decompress and share cultural experiences with friends as well as faculty mentors.
The three-hour workshop closed with an ‘Idea Lab’, where issues surrounding proposed action plans were raised in the form of questions. Specific subjects such as working with administration to increase faculty representation, and how to support student efforts in maintaining inclusivity despite two-year turnover rate of Masters’ students, were discussed. Assumptions of the current state of diversity were challenged, different stakeholders were identified and methods of implementation were suggested.
This was the first DICE event I have attended, and the honest discussion and desire for improvement was deeply inspiring. Regardless of the prevailing political climate, the Nicholas School remains committed fostering a diverse and inclusive community.