Commonly, when society-at-large thinks of diversity, it thinks of people who look different than them or who were born in a different country than they were. Unfortunately, this is a far too common a thinking error. In fact, diversity is much more than what one looks like or where one is from. It encompasses many categories that are far beyond the scope of this statement, but the graphic below shows a few.
The graphic above comes from a PowerPoint slide that I used when I taught a class on the intersection of diverse communities and criminal justice at Sac State in the Division of Criminal Justice. It identifies what is called the Social Identity Profile. Essentially, this profile is a breakdown of the individual characteristics of each person. This identity framework forces us to examine ourselves, others, and our society differently. We are not "all the same." In fact, we are all amalgamations of different pieces of identity. Who we are and what we experience in life is largely driven by these categories. This is what makes us all unique and beautiful.
I firmly believe that it is critical that we examine our own profile so that we may better understand who we are and what informs our worldview. It is only then that we can truly begin to be deeply reflective of others' experiences and realities. We are able to better recognize when others' experiences are mirrors of our own because we share part of our identity profile. But, more importantly, we can recognize when we cannot understand others' experiences. This provides us the opportunity to close our mouths and open our ears. It provides us a unique opportunity to learn and provide an avenue for shared understanding and acceptance. It provides a voice for those who may have felt stifled and/or marginalized.
Recognizing the true extent of diversity and its various avenues is critical for everyone, but it especially important for those of us in education. Educational experiences help shape identity development in individuals. Educational institutions also facilitate the manner in which people interact with others who have different identities than their own. Although Highlands serves adult learners 22+, we still play a critical role in the identity development/re-development process. We also have a keen opportunity to change the narrative for our students about how they see the world and how they can make the world see them.
Below are another two slides that I used in my class at Sac State. These depict the process of socialization as explained by Harris (2004).
As can be seen from the slides above, educational institutions play a fundamental role in the Cycle of Socialization. We are a foundational piece of individual identity (re-)development and interpersonal assumptions based on identity.
I strive to keep the Social Identity Profile framework and the Cycle of Socialization top of mind. I aim to consider how I can and cannot relate to students and staff. This informs the language I use so as to ensure that they feel heard, validated, and understood. I aim to help re-develop, re-configure, or re-structure one's own perception of themselves or their identity in situations where individuals are hard on themselves or engage in negative self-talk. For instance, many of our high school students are very hard on themselves for not having a high school diploma, and they consider it an inherent failure of themselves as people. They tend to wear it as a badge of dishonor. My foremost goal with every student is to help them break that idea. I want them to re-examine their Social Identity Profile, and to continue to develop it. Further, I want them to re-evaluate how they view others' identity profiles, the prejudices and biases they have, and how they may be contributing to the Cycle of Socialization.
As a leader at Highlands, it's my goal to ensure that the manner in which our staff is contributing to the Cycle of Socialization is positive. I strive to ensure that we are teaching our students and fellow staff that we are an institution of education and change. The purpose of education is to change opportunities, worldviews, and experiences. At Highlands, I strive to extend the idea of change to mainstream ideas and values in order to promote a more inclusive and diversity-honoring and diversity-valuing society.