Inclusive Excellence

This past week, for me, has been punctuated by animated and inspiring discussions about diversity, inclusion and civility. I have learned much from the staff, student and faculty conversations sparked by the WASC-related diversity presentations, and from luncheons, receptions and casual talk in hallways and offices. In each of these contexts, I have begun talking about my commitment to inclusive excellence and the means to achieving it. Since the phrase is unfamiliar to many people on campus, I would like to take a moment to describe inclusive excellence and its relationship to diversity, civility and inclusion.

One of these terms, civility, seems to have become somewhat distracting. I have heard "civility" refer to simplistic forms of politeness, or grander values of pure friendship and altruism. When we discuss civility as part of campus climate, sometimes this is heard as a precursor to speech codes. When I use the word, I have no such agenda in mind. I simply mean behaviors that reflect our respect for the dignity of others. Without civility, we can't practice inclusion.

Similarly, I would like to offer what I mean by "diversity" and "inclusion." In the context of community, diversity refers to difference constructed through social and cultural identities. I realize that diversity can mean competing ideas, but that approach gets us no closer to a culture of inclusion. To achieve inclusive excellence, we must learn to engage with social and cultural difference, and compositional diversity - having members of different races, classes, genders, sexual orientations and religions as part of our community - is a prerequisite for inclusive excellence.

"Inclusion" might need clarification as well. For me, inclusion is both value and behavior. It means an invitation to participate, and the willingness and skill to engage with difference. Inclusion builds trust. Once people know they will be heard, they usually don't feel the need to say so much. They can focus on the things that really matter to them, rather than continually fighting to be heard.

Finally, the phrase "inclusive excellence" has been used by national organizations, such as the American Council on Colleges and Universities, and by specific institutions, from Hobart and William Smith Colleges to the University of Connecticut. To achieve inclusive excellence, we must, as a College, create the structures, processes and behaviors that enable us to value difference. We must create the conditions in which those who are afraid to speak learn to gain their voice, on their own terms, at their own pace. And those who have already been speaking need to listen, acknowledge, show respect for what they hear.

Please join me in making Saint Mary's College a community of inclusive excellence.