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Inclusion in our education: thinking about solids and fluids Image credit: Jessica Lewis

Inclusion in our education: thinking about solids and fluids

The Inter Faculty Forum Inclusive Curriculum (IFIC) launches at Leiden University’s annual Diversity & Inclusion Symposium

On Friday January 26th 2021, the yearly Diversity & Inclusion Symposium was held by Leiden University. As is the case with most events these days, the normally offline symposium was now organized in the form of a series of weblectures and online discussion rooms, using the Kaltura platform. However, that did not temper anyone’s enthusiasm, and the symposium once again brought together a record number of attendees.

We discussed many different perspectives related to diversity and inclusion, such as how to increase diversity in staff and students, how to understand prejudice, and many more. I want to highlight one in particular: the panel on the practice of inclusive education, especially because this concept brings many of the other elements together. Inclusive education is dependent on the research and resources available to our lecturers and the professional support and development they get, but also requires a diverse staff and the provision of access to a wide variety of students.

Inclusive education seeks to provide a space for mutual support and for exchanging resources, content, and ideas about inclusion in education in general, not just the curriculum.

This means that although providing an inclusive education is a core aim of the University, actually doing so is a complex puzzle. The Inter Faculty Forum Inclusive Curriculum was created to bring together staff from across Leiden University who have interest and/or experience in increasing inclusion in their education, and presented to the public for the first time during the panel. Its aim is therefore broader than the name, because it wants to provide a space for mutual support and for exchanging resources, content, and ideas about inclusion in education in general, not just the curriculum. Currently, an MS Teams group and a mailing list help bring people together and inform them of interesting study days, online discussions, and other activities to help achieve a more inclusive curriculum.

Announcing such an initiative is of course an excellent opportunity for an innovative approach to tackling the subject, offered by Dr. Francio Guadeloupe. In his presentation, he questioned the current focus on pluriculturalism, which states that multiple identifications/identities together form one unique personality. Dr. Guadeloupe refers to these identifications as “solids”. However, this only partially corresponds with reality: identities are not fixed entities, existing ones are in flux and new ones can emerge as well. That does not mean identities are not real, but they are only part of the story.

Identities are not fixed entities, existing ones are in flux and new ones can emerge as well. That does not mean identities are not real, but they are only part of the story.

The other part is more fluid, which Dr. Guadeloupe refers to as a creolization approach. So people are composites, with fluid elements tying the different components together. Rather than concentrating on the solid components, inclusive education could target the fluid elements, the shared stories and meta-relations that bind people together. He gave the example of a learning experience by elementary students from different ethnic backgrounds, tying their experiences together because of a joint connection with water (a recurring element in most if not all cultures).

It is still a leap from this new way of looking at inclusion to making actual changes in course structure, content, and interactions during class. This translation is still an arduous journey, and the creolization approach will not necessarily work best for all educational activities. But continuous steps are being made, encouraged by Leiden University in general and the action agenda of the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs in particular. The Inter Faculty Forum Inclusive Curriculum provides bottom-up support, at least showing one is not alone in this endeavor. In the end, the provision of a more inclusive education is not only a moral imperative, it also increases quality, and just generally makes sense. So we should take all the help we can get.

If readers at Leiden want to know more about the Inter Faculty Forum Inclusive Curriculum, they can contact Emily Wolff, who can provide access to the MS Teams group and the mailing list.

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