While the month of February marks Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day, it is also designated as the month to honor the triumphs and struggles of the African diaspora communities throughout American history. This period of observance serves as a time to reflect on Black culture and recognize Black achievement. Like many other annual observances, the time can represent a micro-moment spotlight or a lasting imprint. The intent is to hope for the latter, with society’s increased focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). In 2017, the American Council on Education expressed the position “Diversity is no longer simply a question of moral and social responsibility, but a matter of achieving excellence and gaining competitive advantages in the world we live in today.” Positioning Black History Month as an opportunity to listen, understand, appreciate, and learn more is another opportunity to build and sustain inclusive excellence.
The reality is leaders, educators, and professionals may experience information overload. There is the intent to make a difference or to be the change this world needs but questions come to the surface, i.e., What to do next? When is the “right” time to start an initiative? Why the continued focus on DEIB? How to obtain continuous support? These are but a few. It is easy to speak about what needs to be done or identify what needs to change, but challenges arise hindering tangible action and sustainable change to achieve inclusive excellence.
There are times when the intricate institutional culture, policies, and procedures in work and educational environments make DEIB efforts seem like drops in a leaky bucket. As a result, some professionals discover it is easier to remain silent; ignore the presence of discrimination; overlook the perceptions of exclusion; excuse preferential treatment; dismiss the incivility; and above all do not rock the boat. For some, their rationale is that the stress cracks in these complicated structures have existed long before these individuals arrived and will never go away. Although silence in the name of self-preservation may be a sentiment they endorse, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cautions, “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Thus, the role of leadership includes enhancing the effectiveness of DEIB efforts.
With the subject of diversity still causing politically sensitive and highly charged reactions, leaders may feel moments of uncertainty about missteps in DEIB areas with the constant challenge of finding ways to ensure everyone is valued and treated with respect. Patterson et al. state crucial conversations tend to involve high stakes discussion, varying opinions, and strong emotions. Leaders are charged to have crucial conversations to remove the barriers to inclusive excellence, deal with issues others are not prepared to handle, and address matters causing potential or actual tensions. As Angie Thomas wrote, “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re going to be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” Considering this idea another way, what is the point of leading if you’re not going to speak your truth, be authentic, and use your influence in moments your presence is needed?
Building and sustaining inclusive excellence involves listening to and recognizing the strengths of others as well as speaking up so that, at every level, behaviors are practiced that support inclusion, justice, and belonging in health education communities. With such leadership steps, leaders will position themselves to activate change, reorganize infrastructures, build accountability systems, assess processes, and establish tangible collaborations in DEIB efforts–one step and one day at a time.
Aysola, Jaya et al. “Perceptions of Factors Associated with Inclusive Work and Learning Environments in Health Care Organizations: A Qualitative Narrative Analysis.” JAMA network open vol. 1,4 e181003. 3 Aug. 2018, doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.1003
Munoz, Juan, et al. Climate Matters: Campus Leadership for Educational Success. Diversity & Democracy, AA&CU 17(4), 2014.
Patterson, Kerry, et al. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. McGraw-Hill Contemporary, 2002.
Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Walker Books, 2017.
Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents., 2020.
Williams, Damon. Strategic Diversity Leadership: Activating Change and Transformation in Higher Education. Stylus Publishing, 2013