Tag Archives: Inclusivity


My colleagues have already done an excellent job of breaking down inclusion and how to accomplish it in an academic setting.

Rather than echo what was already stated, I wanted to briefly discuss one of the barriers to inclusion: titles.

Titles, or labels, are either earned or given by society. Sometimes they relate to our cultural background, sometimes they relate to our level of education, and other times they simply seem to be bestowed without reason.

I do want to be clear. There is nothing wrong with having a title as a way to identify function or purpose. After all, most of us are professors, a title that denotes our specialization in the education of others in a particular field.

Most positions have a title: Biologist, Commissioner, Dean, Director, Doctor, Mayor, President, Professor… the world is not wanting from a lack of titles.

In their multitudes, however, titles have become barriers to inclusion as they are used to judge others or ourselves.

I have struggled to combat this thought process, the idea that someone is better or worse, smarter or less educated, simply by the title they carry. If a County Commissioner was at odds with a Level I Planner, or a Dean was at odds with the parents of a student, my initial inclination, without knowledge of the situation, was to side with the higher title.

On a personal level, I have seen others change their opinion of me, almost immediately, after finding I had gained or lost a certain title.

The problem with titles is that within each one there is an incredible range of talent, expertise, and intelligence:

Think about all the medical doctors you have ever met.

Were they all equally talented? Knowledgable?

Of course not. Yet, they have the same title, and sight unseen there is a tendency to put all doctors on the same level.

Categorization without knowing. The antithesis of inclusion.

Although I am personally still working on breaking free of title bias, I can say the first important step is to realize that titles denote a function, not intelligence, kindness, or capability.

They merely answer the question “What do you do?” not “Who are you as a person?”

As long as I can remember that, I know I am on my way to becoming a more inclusive individual.


Honors at GCC and Inclusivity

"Learn communication strategies that influence diverse audiences. Express ideas and concepts precisely and persuasively in multiple formats, and employ writing conventions suitable to research and/or creative processes."

     Above is one of the learning outcomes in the honors program here at GCC. As both an online teacher and an honors instructor, it should come as no surprise that creating content that is accessible (and inclusive) to all learners is at the forefront of my mind. So when I set out to design a project for honors students in my Survey of Gothic Literature (ENH235) class, I wanted their presentations to include all audiences and to get at meeting this learning outcome.

     Creating a video screencast and using YouTube's Classic Studio to edit closed captioning seemed to be the best combination of accessibility goals and Universal Design for Learning principles--the videos would be accessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing and also create benefits for all other students:

  • students absorb more by reading,
  • students who have English as a second or third language can listen and see the words, and
  • any student can pause the video and record important vocabulary in their notes.
     I met with students in person or via Google Meeting to explain the project. When I explained that they would need to caption the videos, that this meant more than just the auto-captioning from YouTube, and that one of their learning outcomes was to be able to communicate with diverse audiences in multiple formats, I was happy to get lots of head nods of agreement at the value of including all students.
Image from student video presentation used with permission.

     I believe students in this class are meeting this learning outcome by using a video format and writing (or editing) their closed captions. They are creating content that is inclusive of all learners and, I think and hope, learning a variety of other skills as well. 

Speech & Debate & INCLUSIVITY

One area where I have repeatedly witnessed inclusivity on campus is with in the Forensics team, sometimes known as the Speech & Debate Team. Since this is an academic team compared to athletic team, the skills required are more mental and social versus physical. (Although some competitions are quite physically demanding!) Because of this, anyone can join.

I have encountered the most diverse group of people in my years of participation within Forensics. I have been a competitor as well as a coach. My teammates and my students run the gamut of representation including people of a variety of races and ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender identities, religious beliefs, mental and physical abilities and disabilities, different geographical regions and nationalities, and all types of political and social beliefs.

People often ask me why Speech and Debate is called Forensics. In Latin, forensics means “public forum” or better translated as something “suitable for courts of law.” So when people refer to forensic science, they are discussing the study of science within a public courtroom (usually as it is applied to gruesome crimes on CSI). In competitive Speech and Debate, this definition extends to a variety of topics and competitive events delivered in a setting structured like a forum. All events are judged, similar to a courtroom.

There are events that focus on different styles of performance: speeches, acting, debate, etc. But regardless of the type of event, Forensics values learning. Even watching a poetry round, which is very artistic and linguistic in nature, the performer still makes an argument to teach the audience something new or show them a new perspective.

Forensics gives students a voice, literally and figuratively. Forensics provides a platform for students to discuss issues that affect them both directly and indirectly. One way students can demonstrate ethos or credibility is to show how a topic relates to them. Coaches frequently ask students, “Why is this meaningful to you? How do you relate to this topic? How can you show the audience your passion!”

Therefore, competitive topics are as diverse as the students. I have coached a Muslim student giving a speech about Islam a phobia. I have coached a psychology major giving a speech about under diagnosis of ADHD in women. I have coached a white male student in a speech about white fragility. The possibilities are vast. If there is a way a student is marginalized, we can discuss that issue in a performance. If there is a social issue that needs to be addressed, we can address it.

Clearly, my bias is showing. I am a communication professor, a coach on the Maricopa Forensics team, and a former competitor on the GCC Forensics team . There are definitely skills required to be successful in speech and debate. But, in my experience, the competition is only one aspect. The opportunity to to speak about important events and information as well as the camaraderie of a team provides an amazing and inclusive opportunity for our students. While the point of this post wasn’t to give a plug to the team… if you happen to have a student who is a dynamic speaker and a solid student, we’d love to see more students experience the inclusivity and the opportunity of being part of the team.


Inclusivity = Pronouns



When I first started as Residential Faculty I kept encountering students who identified as transgender and they would let me know their preferred pronouns. When they approached me I gave off the appearance of knowing what they were talking about, but I had no clue. I have to admit that I felt a little ashamed not knowing, I consider myself to be a pretty woke person and I realized that I was clueless in this area. So what did I do? What any teacher would do, I educated myself on the subject and I realized there was even more that I didn’t know.

On my quest for education, I googled “What is transgender?” I found myself on the transgender FAQ page for GLAAD, an organization that centrally focuses on acceptance of the LGBTQ community. They not only explained what it means to be a transgender person, they also had headers like “What name and pronoun do I use?”, “How do I treat a transgender person with respect?”, “Why is transgender equality important?” How did I not know this? One thing that stuck out to me was the sentence where it mentioned the anxiety a transgender person could experience when they are associated with the birth name they do not identify with. After visiting the page, I visited other sources that would help me to understand my students even more. I went even further and attended a workshop at SMCC where the focus of one of the break out sessions was gender identity, expression, and the LGBTQ community.

One thing that is important to me is creating and cultivating a positive, constructive learning environment for EVERY student. I currently address students by their preferred name and pronoun of he/him/she/her/they/them. At the end of the day it’s not about me, it’s about the student and their experience in the classroom. I’ve been doing it ever since I started my journey into educating myself about transgender people years ago. On the first day of class, I ask my students to let me know if they have a preferred name/pronoun during roll or after class so that I can address them appropriately. Students do mention it during roll, or come up to me after class and let me know their preferred names/pronouns.

Now some real talk, it took me a moment to adjust. There have been moments in the first couple of weeks where I accidentally call my students their roster name or I get the pronouns wrong. There was a moment in one class when I did that and I talked with the student after class and apologized, and let them know that I didn’t mean any disrespect in that moment. Despite my mistakes, I think what matters most is that I’m trying and I’m continuing to learn and grow. I’m making an effort to create an environment where students feel like they matter and feel like they are included.

My First Black Teacher

Do any of you remember your first black teacher? I’m guessing many can say they never had one. I can say that I only had two from elementary school all the way through grad school. If I lived my whole life in Arizona, that might be understandable given the 4% African American population in this state. But I started my education growing up in an all black neighborhood in Columbus, OH. I mean everybody was black. Except for the teachers. I didn’t think anything of it. Teachers were just white.

Then when I started junior high school, my mom thought it would be a great idea to bus me to an all white school. Guess what? There weren’t any black teachers there either. Two busloads of black kids shipped off to white suburbia to fend for ourselves. Little did I know that we were part of desegregation busing, the practice of assigning and transporting kids to schools so as to overcome the effects of residential segregation on local school demographics. All I knew was it sucked. I never felt like that was my school. We were just visitors.

In the fall of 1947, Seattle Public Schools hired its first two black teachers.
Thelma DeWitty reads to her second-grade students at Cooper Elementary School in 1950. (Josef Scaylea / The Seattle Times)

We moved to Arizona the following year, and I remember feeling relieved. In Central Phoenix I wasn’t the only minority. There were Mexican and Native American kids too. Brown people unite. But Phoenix had its own version of desegregation busing even though it probably wasn’t planned that way. I lived right across the street from North HS, but some how I found myself riding the city bus everyday to Central. My mom was crazy sneaky like that. There might have been black teachers at North, but I didn’t see a one at Central. They were all white, so clearly they were the better teachers.

When you grow up never seeing anyone who looks like you in roles of leadership and prestige, you start to believe you can never achieve that yourself. Thank goodness I NEVER wanted to be a teacher, so it never really bothered me until I left for college. After spending two years at Phoenix College, I went to a Historically Black College (HBC) in Texas. Woot woot! Certainly, there will black teachers there. Nope. Well, there were a few, but not teaching the courses I was taking. Except for my Spanish teacher. She was my first black teacher. I remember myself acknowledging that fact one day in class and thinking: my first black teacher and I can’t understand a word she’s saying. Haha!


There is a point to all this reminiscing about my schooling. It reminds me that there are many individual students who find themselves in similar situations as I did growing up or even feeling marginalized. Even today we have students who are minorities, LGBTQ, physically or mentally disabled who show up in our classrooms wondering if they fit in. Many are the first in their families to go to college, so there’s no precedence. Many will look around the room and see very few faces like their own and wonder if they can do it. So for me, I feel as if I have to do more than just be their first black teacher. I have to try to be more inclusive with these students. Not because they feel they need it, but because I feel like every student should feel as if they are a part of their community and develop a sense of belonging and hopefully become better prepared for life because of that.

Wanna Dance?

Do you see yourself? Would you feel welcome in this group?

Diversity: Being invited to the party.

Inclusivity: Being asked to dance

(My invented definitions based on the words of Verna Myers)

While reading-up on the topic of inclusivity, I came upon the words of two of my favorite people, Thich Nhat Hanh and Oprah. Here are some insights regarding the term inclusivity.

Thich Nhat Hanh described inclusivity with the verbs “accept and embrace.” This embrace idea connects with Verna Myers’ thought of dancing…close, personal, human…This made me think that inclusivity means not just letting someone in the door, but giving them a hug too. Also, these words suggest close, concrete actions and not just a “nice, far away idea.”

In a 2016 Time interview, Oprah revealed that she had dropped the word diversity from her vocabulary in favor of inclusion. She offered this reasoning, “the word that most articulates what we’re looking for is what we want to be: included. It’s to have a seat at the table where the decisions are being made.”

So, when you hear about the term inclusivity- think of asking someone to dance. Think about parties you’ve attended. The people on the dance floor usually seem to be having the most fun.  


Inclusivity abloom

If you don’t think you have seen some good examples of inclusivity on the GCC campus, let me guide you.

Envision yourself rolling in a wheelchair to join your fitness friends in your daily workout. Imagine arriving at the GCC Adapted Fitness Center.

Your life may have been changed by a stroke or a car accident that suddenly rendered you paralyzed on one side of your body or from the waist down.

Inclusivity may not have been an issue for you before. Now it is everything. Now you crave the focused attention of the trained fitness professionals, the camaraderie of your “classmates,” and the ability to move freely using fitness machines designed to hold you upright, fit your wheelchair or an help you hold onto weights.

The physical, emotional and social benefits experienced in the Adapted Fitness Center often bring tears to my eyes. The life stories and experiences shared in this establishment are heart wrenching. I often ponder on the joyful moments and inclusivity that is experienced in this 400 square foot space of pure love and undeniable passion.

Each semester a new set of Exercise Science interns join the ranks of the Adapted staff. Each one of them is forever changed by the experience. They walk with a new sense of meaning and place in the world.

“I had no idea it existed,” I hear you say! “How exciting that we can make fitness accessible to students and members of the community who are living with physical limitations.”

If you know of someone who might benefit from the Adapted Fitness Center, direct them to the webpage.

Fitness is for EVERY body.