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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION

Including Those Who Think Differently About Inclusion

By Doline Ndorimana and Scott Gillette
27-Mar-24
Including Those Who Think Differently About Inclusion


TIE’s intention is unequivocally to never cause hurt or promote any form of discrimination. The intention of this article is to focus on the ability to have respectful conversations between two individuals with drastically different opinions and not to highlight a specific perspective. However, we recognize that despite our intentions, this article has had a strong impact on our community- helpful to some and hurtful to others. Please read with this in mind.

In an increasingly interconnected and multicultural world, the conversation around Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) has never been more important. Yet, as these discussions grow louder and more prevalent, they also become more complex and, at times, divisive. People come to the table with vastly different experiences, beliefs, and understandings of what DEIJ means and why it matters—or to some, if it should matter at all.

This article aims to invite readers into a thought-provoking exchange between the authors, encouraging an exploration of differing ideas and perspectives. It's a call to recognize the value in diverse viewpoints, not to change minds per se, but to expand them. In navigating this conversation, we're reminded of the power of listening, not as a passive act, but as a dynamic process that fosters growth, empathy, and understanding. We are reminded of the necessity of truly listening—not to just hear but to understand the varied voices that make up our communities.

Doline: A few months ago, I wrote an article, Guidance for Navigating the DEIJ Journey. Although the article was well received overall, there was one comment from a reader, Scott Gillette, an international educator, that caught my full attention - not because I was offended by his opposition to my article, but because I saw an opportunity to hear a different perspective. I left a response asking Scott to DM me and have further conversation, which he promptly did. We ended up meeting on Zoom and our follow-up conversation was very respectful and productive. We then agreed to collaborate and write this together. The following is a shortened version of our conversation- as we could have easily written 30 pages.

Some of you might find this exchange thought-provoking, others might dislike it or/and feel offended. We ask that you remain open-minded as you read this piece and hope that you will read through to the end.

Scott: Thanks for the opportunity to discuss DEIJ in the international school format. I know that you are committed to a world where people are treated right. This is a laudable goal. I do not believe that DEIJ is a way to achieve that goal. Its intellectual heritage requires people to be coerced into believing things that are quite controversial on close examination, and second, simply not true or accurate as a matter of course.

That said, rejecting DEIJ by no means invalidates or minimizes the importance of treating people right and providing opportunities to people who, in different ways, may have been left out.

These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Many individuals in the international school community would argue otherwise. In fact, it is a solemn responsibility to make sure that freedom of thought is preserved, which is the only real way for true equality (not equity) of all people to be upheld.

Doline: Thank you, Scott, for having this conversation. I would like for you to elaborate further on the idea that makes you think that DEIJ is not a way to achieve fair treatment for all.

I also hear that you believe in the importance of offering opportunities to those who have been left out so that “equality of all is upheld.” To me, that’s what DEIJ is all about - offering fair opportunities to all. But I sense that for you, DEIJ means something else. What does it mean to you? 

Scott: DEIJ means different things to different people. Sometimes, the same person will use the same term with different meanings within a short period of time. On its surface, DEIJ is about giving everyone a seat at the table and decent opportunities for all. But DEIJ is rooted in some complex and profoundly controversial political theories, which hold the following: the most important aspects of ourselves and identities are our race, gender, and sexual orientation, that the world is divided into oppressor and the oppressed, and that the only way to overcome this oppression is to hold a collectivist point of view where we treat people as members of a class, instead of as individuals.

It is common to hear the expression “doing the DEIJ work.” Well, what is that work? If DEIJ is about treating people right, then DEIJ is unassailable. It also means that it is a set of ideas that anyone can and should adopt pretty quickly.

But if DEIJ “work” is about compelling folks to adopt an ideology, then DEIJ and its accompanying work must be rejected. Because neither international school teachers nor anyone else should be coerced to accept any set of beliefs, much less totalitarian ones.

Doline: You raised some interesting points here Scott and there are several things I’d like to react to.

1. If DEIJ implies holding “a collectivist point of view where we treat people as members of a class, instead of as individuals,” then it is completely misunderstood.

To me, the goal with DEIJ is establishing a culture of belonging and exposing our students and staff to different perspectives, cultures, and views of the world that they’re not familiar with, so we walk the talk and become internationally minded. To do so, we need to be surrounded by people who come from different walks of life, who have different lived experiences, and can bring a perspective that we don’t necessarily have or completely ignore, which many students and staff could benefit from.

The whole work of inclusion is centered on the individual, and not the group and that’s what makes this work complex and challenging, which brings me to your next point.

2. The binary idea of “the oppressor” and “the oppressed,” I personally find this idea very detrimental to DEIJ and possibly one of the reasons why some people might be resistant. People cannot be categorized in binary terms. We can’t be thinking - if you agree with group A, you are the “oppressor/privileged” ones and if you agree with group B, you belong to the “oppressed/marginalized” and/or side with this group; and these can’t be the two options to choose from. What happens when we think this way is that we ignore the fact that people are multi-faceted individuals with opinions and sets of beliefs that vary greatly. And by ignoring this fact and putting people in either the “oppressor” or “oppressed,” we do the exact opposite of what DEIJ is supposed to do - we limit people to what we think they are and ultimately create an environment where we can’t talk to each other, disagree with one another, or have fruitful discussions. How are we supposed to solve difficult challenges if we can’t have difficult conversations about those challenges?

So, I agree with you on this point. The consequence, as you said, might be division, frustration, and lack of understanding on both sides; so, we have two worlds growing apart within the same institution. That’s why I think it’s important to dissociate DEIJ from this binary idea of the “oppressed” versus the “oppressor.”

DEIJ is about centering new voices, bringing people together, and learning and unlearning together. This can only work if there’s a collective effort. Unfortunately, the latter cannot happen if there’s no diversity of thoughts and it’s crucial that as educators, we are ready and willing to hear different perspectives and ideas. If we don’t listen to one another, what happens is that we start excluding some people despite our efforts to be inclusive, and the reality is that when people feel excluded in any shape or way, they fear irrelevance, they fight back in different ways, and, unfortunately, the first victims are our students.

3. Your last point about “doing the DEIJ work” - what is that work? I wish we didn’t need to call it “DEIJ work.” Ideally, it should be embedded in everything we do and every part of the school. It should be part of what we do every day. We shouldn’t have to talk about changing our hiring practices to attract a more diverse staff that aligns with our student population. But we do because discrimination, unfortunately, is a real thing in the international school ecosystem and many people have been harmed and left behind for not fitting the “default mode.”

If, as an international community with a great diversity of students, we all understood the importance of creating a teaching approach that aims at understanding students’ cultural identities, creating an environment where diverse perspectives are offered and different communication styles are honored, empowering all students to become critical learners, we wouldn't need to talk about “decolonize the curriculum.”

We talk about DEIJ work because we need to be intentional in our practices- because we haven’t always been so. I wish we didn’t have to.

I am very curious though to know what makes you believe that DEIJ is about “compelling folks to adopt an ideology that is totalitarian.” If that’s what you believe, I can understand why you would want to fight against it. Can you please talk more about this?

Scott: There are broad areas of agreement. Certainly, international schools are places that should and, indeed, must be places of sharing culturally and welcoming to everyone at the table. If one tends to be more insular in one’s views, international schools may not be the best place to be.

If I were to become aware of discrimination at any school I worked at, I would be compelled to make every effort to stop it.

A culture of belonging is certainly valuable at international schools. That kind of culture is needed to make international schools effective, along with the basics of providing good classroom content and instruction, worthwhile extracurricular activities and sports programs, and developing connections with the outside community.

I have to disagree that DEIJ is just about belonging. I have read tieonline.com for a while, and it is clear that many proponents don’t just want to create a culture. They want radical transformation. This is why I am comfortable saying that DEIJ is, at its heart, totalitarian.

DEIJ has an intellectual history rooted in ideas like postmodernism and critical theory, which came out of the Frankfurt School. I can delve more deeply into the totalitarian nature of these ideas at a later point. But I will answer the question based upon how DEIJ workshops and seminars are totalitarian as they are implemented today simply by talking about what happens in these workshops.

If one attends a DEIJ training, here are the first two things that participants are told: they have bias and they have privilege.

Now, human beings can “otherize” people, or treat them badly because they belong to a certain group. That human tendency is something to avoid. Also, we are fortunate to live when we do and to have the chance to be educators all around the world. Gratitude is something to cultivate.

I just cannot abide by the assumption that I have certain characteristics right off the bat, especially if the accusation being made is spurious. Moreover, I cannot abide by any set of ideas that both presumes and then forces me to accept the idea that I have certain flaws that I do not. I do not have “bias.” I go out of my way to treat people right. Nor do I have “privilege,” as I do not presume that I am entitled to certain things just because of my background.

I also refuse to capitulate to people who believe that they possess certain moral and intellectual truths that must be adopted by others. Indeed, the people who demand compliance either are completely unaware of the origins of their ideas, or believe it is their right to impose ideas on others that are, at best, profoundly controversial, and at worst, genocidal.

So, the best solution in my view is for DEIJ proponents to ditch the political and intellectual excesses, and seek to cultivate a welcoming spirit instead.

This would reduce the need for DEIJ programs by 80 percent. Which is okay, as DEIJ programs built on low but solid ground can be effective. Divisive and invasive programs rooted in totalitarian garbage are destined to do more harm than good.

Doline: There's a lot to unpack here. You said that you’ll make every effort to stop discrimination in your school if you see it, and I actually believe you would. What if there is a slight possibility that you might do or say something that might be, let's say, insensitive to someone’s culture or identity, for example, without you being aware? Wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want to know that the person didn’t dare to say something, but was hurt by your comment because to them the comment means that you think they’re less than? 

Can you truly say that you are immune to inflicting any sort of discrimination or microaggression whatsoever, consciously and/or subconsciously? You can argue the conscious part, but can you argue the subconscious part?

My point is, we can’t know what we don’t know, and saying that you don’t have “biases” is something hard to take on board because we are all products of our upbringing, personal experiences, social interactions, etc. These form our perspectives and implicit biases. Because “you go out of your way to treat people right,” which I believe you do because you have been nothing but respectful and kind throughout this process, wouldn’t it be important to know your own biases and blind spots especially when dealing with people from all over the world? 

Let me first say that bias is not necessarily a bad thing. They are the expected outcomes of our lived experiences and it’s a human process that we all go through. I am often bothered by people who say that they are ashamed of their own biases. They shouldn’t be because biases are the result of our lived experiences that we didn’t have control over. But once we are made aware of them, we ought to be responsible and act in such a way that they don’t cause harm.

Now, I agree with you that making snap judgments about who you are isn't fair. I also think that if one truly wants to learn more about how they can reduce discrimination in schools and be part of creating a culture of belonging, having some self-reflection on yourself and your biases and exploring ways they can shape your beliefs can be a great way to start.

DEIJ workshops should not be about imposing a view or an idea. Instead, they are offering a space where new perspectives are highlighted, where self-reflection and a sense of collegiality are prompted so we can think together of ways we can create a culture of belonging where each child and each adult feels a great sense of belonging. To belong, you need to thrive, and you can thrive only if you can show up as your authentic self.

Oftentimes, people from historically marginalized groups have not shown up as they would want to show up because of comments that are insensitive to their community and identities, comments that are often not intended to hurt but are, in my opinion, a result of implicit biases. That’s why we talk about biases.

I also want to react to your comment on “privilege.” I understand your feeling when you say that you don’t have privilege just because of your background. When someone has worked hard to get where they are and has gone through hardship and feels that nothing was easily given to them, instead they had to earn everything, when they hear “you have white privilege”, it can be hard to take and feels wrong. When talking about white privilege, what that means, is that your skin color has not contributed to this hardship.

I personally never want to be defined by my skin color- ever. It is indeed an important part of my identity and one that I am proud of. But many times, unfortunately, some people, before they get to even know me or speak to me, had already defined me by skin color and this transpires in being followed by a security agent in the mall, being promised an apartment for rent on the phone because you have no “accent” and then being denied once they see you, I can go on and on - because if you are Black living in the West, sometimes or even often for some, your skin color defines you in the same way that we know that the ocean is dangerous and therefore warning is advised. Be careful, they might steal. Be careful, they might ruin my apartment. Um… I am not sure, she’s not a native speaker - just be careful!

The last thing I want to react to is your thoughts on decreasing DEIJ programs by 80 percent because you feel that they’re doing more harm than good. There are certainly many people who will feel offended by this remark. Let’s take a step back instead and see this as an opportunity to reflect and wonder why you feel this way. I tend to believe that if there’s one person in this space who feels a certain way, there are many more who share the same sentiment.

Why isn’t the work of DEIJ synonymous with fostering a culture of belonging anymore? What are we failing to address adequately or where are we falling short? Why are people changing what they say (publicly) but they’re not changing what they think? Is this why we’re not seeing progress that we want to see?

Saying it’s white supremacy or racism is a shortcut that prevents us from having deep reflection that will lead us to a solution. There’s no doubt in my mind that any international educator in their right mind would want every child they teach to feel a sense of belonging and will go far to make it happen.

So, the fact that there seems to be (for some people, including yourself) a dissociation between DEIJ and a culture of belonging tells me that the way we communicate is not effective. What if we had more discussions like the ones we’re having? Would that help us understand where everyone is coming from and who we are trying to move? Would that help examine what are we going through as individuals and where our colleagues’ perceptions came from?

I am very grateful for this discussion because the more we do, the more we’ll see that we are more alike than different.

What’s your take on this? Where do we go from this? How do we make our schools a place of belonging for all students and staff free of discrimination?

Scott: Would I want to know if I have offended someone? Yes. Hopefully, we could talk about the issue at hand. But sometimes it is impossible not to offend someone, especially if the topic is as contentious and fraught with genuine peril as DEIJ is.

If I am expressing skepticism about DEIJ programs, it is altogether reasonable for anyone to question my motives and basically where I am coming from. People have a right to know what the source of my objection is. Most people refuse to criticize DEIJ because they do not want to be perceived as being racist. Which is why it is important for conscientious objectors to speak up.

I am absolutely dedicated to both the ideals and laws that came out of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. I also consider it wholesome if you choose to extol your African and Burundian heritage. Indeed, as this century progresses, and demographic decline is likely to happen almost everywhere in the world except for Africa, both international schools and educational programs on all levels have a future in Africa and for African teachers and students.  

I wish you were not followed in a mall when there was no reason for anyone to do so or dealt with poorly and discriminated against when trying to rent an apartment. I have no doubt that this can be demoralizing and infuriating. There is lingering racism in all societies, and schools should take a stand against that. That is why 20 percent of what DEIJ does is vital.

If DEIJ is about creating a sense of belonging, full stop, and there are no ideological requirements beyond that, there is no reason to have extensive meetings and sessions. One can set this vital standard: everyone should be treated right, regardless of their background.

You asked, “Why isn’t the work of DEIJ synonymous with fostering a culture of belonging anymore?” I assert that the sense of belonging is actually ideological indoctrination and that belonging means that everyone is expected to learn the “right” point of view. That is what 80 percent of DEIJ is all about in my view, which is what prompted that position in the first place.

DEIJ goes far beyond the necessary principle of tolerance. Instead, DEIJ is meant to inculcate groupthink among their participants. Individuals are taught that their background and collective identity are paramount; their individual identity has to be subordinated for a higher goal. This goal is collective action, based upon achieving the impossible goal of equity. This is not just political; this is the type of politics that veers into coercion and compliance.

So that is why DEIJ inevitably will be divisive instead of, well, inclusive. Some educators may see their role as a way of achieving social change. But other educators, even those sympathetic to the cause of DEIJ, will have to choose between dissent and silence.

Here is an example: TIE Online once provided a link to a group called Dismantling Racism that outlined the characteristics of white supremacy culture. What are some of these characteristics, supposedly, of white supremacy? Objectivity, a sense of urgency, perfectionism, and the worship of the written word are some examples provided.

My biggest problem with this schema, by far, is that it lumps true white supremacists in with people who just have different values. Second, nobody’s personal characteristics should be associated with one’s race or background. Psychologists have proved that there is as great a range of behavioral characteristics within races as there are between races. Of course, it is immoral and unfair to attribute stereotypes to people.

But another characteristic of white supremacy on this list is individualism. This is very telling because individualism is precisely the worldview that I would promote to people, as opposed to an identity that is rooted in a particular group.

Enlightened individualism is the best way to forge a positive relationship between yourself and the world. Hopefully, our potential can coincide with the needs of the outside world, to the benefit of both. We become greater as people and then develop meaning in our lives with positive interactions.

So what does Dismantling Racism find wrong with individualism? “Individualism… creates a lack of accountability, as the organization values those who can get things done on their own without needing supervision or guidance.” Well, what’s wrong with that? Why do people need supervision or guidance if the job is getting done? Accountability and guidance are needed only if something is not getting done right.

But from a collectivist point of view, the only place for the individual is to serve the group. Permission does not need to be asked. It is mandated.   

This is how DEIJ is about inculcating groupthink. I do not think that you can separate the DEIJ ideology, which is rooted in leftist politics of an extremely controversial variety, from its universal goal of belonging, which is unobjectionable.

I am not saying that people cannot engage in leftist politics. Nor am I saying that the political left is bad and the political right is good. I am saying that ideas rooted in totalitarian Marxism and postmodernism must never be foisted on people in a professional setting. 

International schools need to accomplish many things. They need to prepare students for college. They need to establish curriculums and effective programs. They need to provide athletic and extracurricular programs. If too much time is spent on DEIJ initiatives, schools suffer from divisive ideas and overweening dictates from colleagues. Moreover, time is lost on achieving more immediate, tangible, and positive goals.

Above all, thank you very much, Doline, for engaging with me and giving me an opportunity to address these issues with you.

Doline: I want to thank you too, Scott, for this conversation. We indeed disagree on certain points, but we were also able to find common ground, which is a great start. More importantly, we learned from one another, and I think that we were able to do so only because when getting into this conversation our goal was never to change each other’s minds but to try to understand where we are coming from. We didn’t reach a resolution, and that’s okay. But we started a conversation that I hope will be the beginning of a wider conversation in the international education world.

Thank you!

Scott & Doline


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Doline Ndorimana is a passionate educator dedicated to creating a culture of belonging in schools while advocating for student voice and agency. She is an Educational Consultant, an Accreditation Evaluator for the Council of International Schools, and a member of the TIE editorial team. She has held different roles in international schools across Europe and lives now in Melbourne with her family.

Scott Gillette is an international educator who has taught at multiple schools in Europe and Asia. He is appreciative of the opportunity to discuss these complicated and vital issues.




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Comments

04/13/2024 - My Heart is with Doline
Here is yet another great rebuttal from Cynthia Nagrath who retorts to a few of Mr. Gillette's misconceptions around DEIJ work. I would love to hear how your perspective widens after reading this article, Mr. Gillette.
https://medium.com/@cnagrath/clashing-views-on-deij-a-personal-take-on-international-educations-latest-storm-c4b890a902cf
04/12/2024 - My heart is with Doline
Here is a response from Dr. Danau Tanu, Social Scientist and author of "Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School". It is a must read- https://www.danautanu.com/blog/
04/10/2024 - Doline Ndorimana
My response:
https://lnkd.in/gSig43Sg
04/09/2024 - Biases Exist
James Baldwin wrote, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

Also: a transphobic comment from Scott (who claims not to have any biases) has been removed since this article was first published online.
04/09/2024 - Liz Duffy
I appreciate the importance of people being able to disagree respectfully in order to further each other’s understanding. However, that is not at all the effect that Mr. Gillette’s comments had on me. Rather, I found that many of his responses maligned DEIJ practitioners and programs with broad inflammatory statements, unsubstantiated by facts.

The disclaimer that you put on the article states that TIE’s intention is unequivocally to never cause hurt. The article has done just that, even though I accept that that was not your intent.

ISS recently co-hosted a book group discussion with AIELOC on Lily’s Zheng’s book, DEI deconstructed. A major premise of that book is that intentions don’t equal impacts. The harmful impact of some of Mr. Gillette’s comments are clear in the many heartfelt, social media posts in response to this article. Given that impact, I urge you to remove the article from your website and replace it with one more likely to generate the thoughtful discussion that you intended.

04/09/2024 - Pordan Jeterson
Aristotle wrote, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
04/08/2024 - thinking matters
I stand firmly with Scott on this one. We have lost the capacity to engage with nuance. DEIJ programmes come from a good and necessary place. But when the people promoting them cross the line into rigid, binary thinking, we all lose. To wit, how many calls have been made to "take down this hateful article"? Can anyone point to one place where Scott espouses anything "hateful"? Is it more hateful to call an opinion one doesn't agree with as "disrespectful" and call to censor it?
04/07/2024 - Heather Sandin-Baumann
This article does nothing to promote a culture of respectful conversations over differing views, in fact it does the opposite. Unfortunately, it has provided a platform to amplify misconceptions and sensationalized claims. This is not responsible. This has completely missed the mark. It pains me as a school leader to think about the children under our care who are powerless. We as a community hold the power to move things forward. This article unnecessarily adds fuel to a fire that distracts and has far reaching impact. Any adult reading this already knows what a respectful conversation looks like…it is the quality and the content of a conversation that makes it useful for others. Please be responsible and do better for this community.
04/07/2024 - Heather Sandin-Baumann
This article does nothing to promote a culture of respectful conversations over differing views, in fact it does the opposite. It pains me as a school leader to read this article. There are so many people working hard everyday to learn and develop It gives someone a platform to is most certainly unaware of the tremendous impac
04/02/2024 - T
Diversity, equity and inclusion are policies and programs intended to ensure fair treatment and broad representation across race, gender, sexual orientation and more, especially among those who’ve been historically underrepresented.
04/02/2024 - Emily W
I wrote a response on my blog: https://emilywinchip.com/2024/04/02/article-response/

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