Diversify the Stakeholders Around the Table
Have you ever participated in a program, initiative or event and quickly realized that it could have been more inclusive or planned better? I have found that even when we have a goal of creating an inclusive campus environment, we often fail because we leave stakeholders out of the conversations. For example, have you examined your planning group to ensure representation of varied voices are around the table? How often have you learned that you held an event on a Saturday because unwittingly, you excluded devoted members of religions that practice their Sabbath on a Saturday? Have you participated in the design of a new building and failed to create a unisex bathroom space for a student born sexually ambiguous because it never occurred to you that these students exist? These are just two of many dilemmas that campus administrators struggle to answer every day, but could do better if they were more intentional about who was sitting around the table.
While program planners are not able to host events where every group can attend or implement initiatives that serve every student in every case, sincere efforts must be made to implement opportunities that do not exclude students because of their group affiliations. We want to alleviate a backlash or concerns by groups of people when planning campus initiatives, so we need to be intentional about who we have around the table. As campus administrators, the more we are able to engage the diversity of voices on our campuses, the better our end programs are and the more likely our students will be prepared to lead in this increasingly diverse society.
When we exclude diverse voices, we are teaching students that it is okay to exclude; however, this is not what we want our future leaders of America to learn or believe. If we want better social systems in our society, then we must model working with diverse others for our students. In Part I of this series, I shared the importance of finding our mutual or shared goal. However, even as we can agree on the goal, we must also provide opportunities for a variety of stakeholders to be part of process that leads to that end. Be aware that with the inclusion of more voices, the planning process may take a little longer and may require some delicate facilitation, but the end results are more likely to be strong, sustainable and have a positive impact (I’ll talk more about the timeline in Part III)
I like to think of it this way: When we include diverse groups, particularly students on committees, they can learn a number of skills including how to negotiate, manage conflict, and build their professional network or their confidence. These leadership qualities can position them for greater leadership roles in our society. More importantly, these same students can become influential alumni, financial supporters of our institutions, and the best recruiters of prospective students.
We don’t always know where our students will end up, but if we include them in the planning process and model proper attitudes, skills and techniques of inclusion, then when they become powerful educators, lawyers, investors, politicians and more, then chances are likely that they will be inclusive and make similar decisions that are sustainable over the long term and that benefit our society.