It is my hope that we all can acknowledge that when working with clients and colleagues, multiple lenses are necessary to capture the true essence of a person. The resulting clarity serves to only improve relationships and outcomes.
A number of years ago, I had three clients with very similar profiles, whom we’ll refer to as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. All three were high-achieving juniors at a selective independent school with balanced academic and extracurricular interests: multiple scholastic awards and honors, varsity sports, and community-based volunteering. All three were 16 years old, white, cisgender males from upper-middle class, two-parent households, of standard height and athletic build, whom could be considered conventionally attractive.
However, aside from their academic, physical, and socioeconomic similarities, each student possessed a distinguishing quality that separated them from the other two: Kirk was one of four students in the entire school who followed a religion different than the majority of students; Spock is neurodivergent and had an IEP; and McCoy is same gender loving. On the one hand, these three were very much alike, particularly if you only use race and socioeconomic status as your lens.
My client trio were afforded equal opportunities and privileges in their lived experiences. They all were from generations of educated, financially stable, non-toxic families. They all received a high-quality education, lived in safe environments, and had culturally enriching experiences. As their independent educational consultant (IEC), should I approach them equally?
Well, there is a reason the “E” in DEI stands for equity and not equality. While these words are often used interchangeably, they actually mean very different things, especially in the context of our work as IECs. Equality refers to treating each person the same; equity refers to allocating resources based on individual need because everyone has different circumstances.1 So how does this translate to Kirk, Spock, and McCoy? It means that I gave each of them multiple opportunities to share and perhaps even form their stories: their lived experiences, their challenges, their needs. I actively listened without judgment and tried my best to offer each support that matched their stories and identities.
As humans we can all fall prey to making assumptions and thus making mistakes. As adults, we know that the value of making assumptions and mistakes is in learning from them and being better prepared the next time. If I used the same approach with all clients because they are “all the same” or “not diverse” and believed that the principles of DEI therefore are not necessary or applicable, I will have made the assumption that people are only what we see. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy show us that is not the case. Don’t they?
When my trio applied to colleges, each of them had an essay prompt about diversity and each one said to me “I’m not diverse. I’m a white guy. What can I write about?” In my mind, I was thinking “You’re kidding right? After all we’ve talked about and all you’ve been through, and you don’t see yourself in this prompt?!” Surely being one of few students in his school of his faith framed part of Kirk’s experience and perspective. Spock was very aware that the majority of his classmates did not have an IEP and were not considered neurodivergent. Some of McCoy’s familial relationships were strained when he shared that he is same gender loving. Yet they struggled with seeing how diversity related to them because they could not see past their whiteness.
Because our society centers whiteness and considers it the norm, many see diversity as meaning ‘different than white’ or ‘only about race.’ To the contrary, diversity is about what makes each of us unique and includes our backgrounds, personality, life experiences, and beliefs, all the things that make us who we are. It is a combination of our differences that shape our view of the world, our perspective and our approach.2 Having DEI competencies enables us as IECs to have insightful conversations and see through various lenses. It is about honoring our clients’ and colleagues’ lived experiences. It is about understanding the why.
Whenever I work with students who have been on a mission trip, I ask them to tell me about the people they served. Why do they need help? Why have their families lived in poverty for generations? What systems, historical events, or practices have created this poverty, poor education system, violence, etc.? What are possible solutions? It can be difficult to look outside of ourselves. It can be difficult to have certain conversations. My goal is to help students learn about different people and situations and understand that there is always a why.
“Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is an outcome.”3
A mom once shared with me that when she and her son were on a campus visit, they saw a student going to class in salmon-colored pants, loafers, and a button-down shirt, to which her son exclaimed “Yes! I have found my people!” As IECs, our experience informs us that one does not pick a college based on the fashion choices of its students, but this client was on to something. On the surface, he could have friends who would not question or judge his preppy style. Digging deeper, he saw belonging.
Whether at school, work, or even professional conferences, doesn’t everyone want to feel like they belong? Enter my client trio. Kirk decided that high school had tired him of explaining his holidays and he preferred a college with more students of his faith (Inclusion) which would give him the opportunity to have more friends who were of the same faith (Belonging). Spock chose a school with excellent support for and acceptance of neurodivergent students (Inclusion) and was a founding member of the All Brains Welcome Club (Belonging). McCoy chose a college located in a state where he felt the political climate was supportive of same-loving individuals (Inclusion and Belonging). And after a bit of tough love brainstorming, they all successfully wrote their diversity essay.
We all need to be open to the principles of DEI regardless of the population with whom we work. In doing so, we acknowledge the various experiences and identities of our clients and better serve them as a result.
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee celebrates and honors the diversity of our membership. We collaborate and partner with other committees to grow our knowledge; provide educational offerings in multiple formats; provide DEI resources to assist our members; and empower our members to have courageous conversations. Our purpose is to welcome everyone to the table in the spirit of learning.4
1 “Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference?” Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University
2 “Only skin deep? Re-examining the Business Case for Diversity”, Deloitte 2011
3 Arthur Chan, DEI Strategist
4 DEI Committee mission statement, IECA
By Amy S. Jasper, MPA, IECA (VA), My College Fit, 2022-23 Chair of the IECA DEI Committee