Inclusion Takes Work and Commitment
A student’s educational success begins with an inclusive environment. If a student does not feel accepted or safe or witnesses another student not being accepted for who they are, it can become a barrier. Just like most people, students do their best work in a supportive place, with positive encouragement. As an organization committed to every student graduating, we feel strongly about working with schools to build inclusive practices, so that all students feel welcome.
From the very beginning of CYC, we’ve known that our work would rise or fall based on our ability to serve people of all races, sexual orientations, genders, and religious beliefs. We’ve tried to create a culture that respects differences and includes everyone. In fact, we actively pursue it at all levels of the organization—everything from our data collection, to our program models, to our trainings, and our hiring practices—reflect a commitment to building a culture of inclusion. Most importantly, we truly want to connect with the youth we serve and always be in a position of understanding their needs and challenges.
While all of that sounds great, it isn’t always easy. There have definitely been bumps in the road for us. Broadly speaking, anything the world struggles with, we struggle with too. At various times, we’ve had to work through and address homophobia, sexism, racism, ageism, and the lack of inclusive practices in our own organization and the community. As a nonprofit with a wide range of people serving a diverse population on a daily basis, “crucial conversations” often need to take place. Indeed, we embrace these opportunities to have open discussions with the youth we serve and the community members with which we work.
About four years ago, we realized that we needed to approach inclusion actively and intentionally. While we had worked towards creating a more diverse staff, it was becoming apparent that that simply wasn’t enough. Through the help of a consultant, we began to implement practices that foster an inclusive culture, which begins at the interview process for staff and continues as long as they work with us. This work includes new employees becoming familiar with their own identities and strengths and how these affect their world view and impact an inclusive culture. Some identities are clearly more dominant than other identities and encouraging awareness around those are important.
We also have regular trainings and all-staff meetings where we discuss and work on inclusion. We sometimes role play and talk openly about the different responses to real-world situations we have encountered. If someone uses non-inclusive language or displays non-inclusive behavior, we expect a certain level of ownership to come from that person, while supporting them all the same. We also look through our own data and information trying to understand the different trends. For example, we recently worked through a massive revision in in our data collection processes to ensure better and more-timely information around our student’s identities and life events.
In short, we approach inclusion as an on-going project and commitment that doesn’t have a finish line. It is something we are always striving for and it is something that we know needs constant attention and vigilance as well as open dialogue. We also see this as an obligation to the youth we serve. The world changes and if we always want to be in a position of meeting the youth where they are at, it’s absolutely crucial that we begin with an understanding of ourselves.