Inclusivity, diversity, equality and equity

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Author: Hans-Dieter Hiep.

This text was written as part of a course on Inclusive Education (January 2022), part of Leiden University's University Teacher Qualificiation.


On the themes of inclusivity, diversity, equality and equity.

Inclusivity: It is important for everybody to feel part of a larger whole. In my case as a teacher, students need to feel welcome in my class; feel at ease to enable themselves to develop as they are challenged in my academic field of expertise. Inclusion can be understood as membership of a collective of people that share the same goals (in our academic setting these are core humanistic values such as, among others: the development into an independent and critical thinker, cultivating a disinterested love of truth, and being empowered to defend one's own position or view).

Diversity: I sometimes jokingly say that the term "diversity" is in terminological contradiction to "university", if diversity is interpreted as "multiple" (di) "ways" (versity) and university is interpreted as "the one" (uni) "way" (versity). The joke works on different levels: on the superficial level, analyzing terms and giving a particular interpretation nicely shows how diverse the interpretations of natural language in fact are. On a deeper level, it provokes thought about the actual role the university plays as an institution: is it in showing students the way, and what then is that way? The seeming contradiction is nicely refuted at this deeper level: diversity (in the sense of having multiple ways of looking at/approaching the same subject matter) is a neccesary tool for understanding. For dealing with complex subject matter, for taking into account different reasons and arguments, and for being able to deeply respect the many different ways, out of the background, there are in approaching brilliantly illuminated thinking, on the foreground.

Equality and equity: As a mathematical logician, I have studied identity, equality and equivalence of abstract objects. It is the question whether these concepts naturally transfer to the social context. It is of importance to apply careful distinctions in terminology when speaking about students. Every student is "equivalent", meaning that everyone has the same actual value, regardless of their inherent (cultural or religious) background, (physical/mental) handicap, or wealth. How much a student deserves attention depends on what is equitable: how can I maximize the total potential of my students in attaining our academic goals? Every student must be treated with as much respect as is reasonably possible within the constraints given to me, and it requires of me as a teacher to be actively mindful of my own implicit biases in the regard of a student's potential. However, no student is "equal": everyone will live a different life, and encounters different challenges and obstacles. What may be difficult for some may be easy for others: so it is important for me to adapt as much as possible to the circumstances of the student. Finally, a student's identity is entirely dependent on their attributes (not neccesarily visible and knowable to me) and so it is necessary, as much as is reasonably possible, to respect students that take ownership of their own attributes (such as gender, intimacy preferences, political stance or reluctance, religious tendencies, &c).