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Diversity, inclusion and belonging

In this video, Educators Dr Louisa Smith and Professor Kelley Johnson introduce the ideas of inclusion and belonging.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Diversity, inclusion and belonging.
LOUISA: Hello, I’m Louisa.
KELLEY: And I’m Kelley.
LOUISA: And during this course, we are going to be unpacking some words that we often hear in association with disability– words like inclusion, and human diversity, and belonging, and other words as we move through the course. So Kelley, I think the first word that we’ll look at is this concept of inclusion. And we hear this a lot when we’re talking about disability– this idea of disability inclusion– and we attach it to all sorts of meanings. But I know from our conversations in the past that you have a few issues with the term “inclusion.” So maybe we could start by discussing that word.
Kelley: Yes. Look, like a lot of other people, I thought, yes– inclusion– fantastic– that’s what people with disabilities need and want. But this term has been around for 20 years or more. And I have become increasingly concerned about its use and what it means. Because it’s thrown around without much attempt to really explore what it actually means for people. And I think the other issues with it are, 20 years on, there are still many people with disabilities who are unemployed, who can’t participate in their communities, who live very lonely, isolated lives. There’s something wrong with inclusion if it’s seen that way.
And I think that some of the issues that have arisen for me about the term are that firstly, we don’t define it very often. We just use it. It free floats. So we say, inclusion in the community, but we don’t define the community either. Nor do we really think about the person. So Louisa, you could say, “I am included.” Or I could say, “I include you Louisa.” But it’s very hard to say, “I include myself.” So there’s a lack of agency somehow in this term.
LOUISA: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that really strikes me about the word “inclusion”– is that if I apply it to myself, I usually would only apply it to myself in places that were really exclusive– so for instance, a club that I’m not allowed to go to.
Kelley: Like a men’s club
LOUISA: A men’s club– and then suddenly I’m allowed membership to, or entry into. And I think it does set up this really neat boundary, or binary opposition between inclusion and exclusion. And as you say– I think what you mean when you’re talking about agency is in effect this kind of power or empowerment that people have over being included themselves. And instead what we get with this concept of inclusion is the idea that somebody in power gets to determine whether you’re in or out of a certain space.
Kelley: Yes, and it also doesn’t take into account what I might want, my subjectivity– so I think sometimes when people talk about someone being included, they are the ones who define what that means.
LOUISA: I think– I mean, I think we’ll come back to that idea in a minute. I think the other thing that you’re alluding to there too though, and perhaps one reason that the term “inclusion” is useful, is that it is often about places where people have been excluded in the past. So you’ve talked about this idea of employment and community participation, for want of a better term. And I think it does make visible the active forms of exclusion, or discrimination, where we do need some proactive and visible policies around making sure that human diversity is valued and recognised. So I think that there are– there is a place there for the term.
But I understand your perspective that it’s not actually been successful in the way that it’s been operationalised. So I mean, I think that there are alternatives perhaps to it, and maybe you could discuss that a little.
Kelley: Well, I think inclusion’s a step along a long journey that we’re all taking. I don’t want to sort of say, well, we shouldn’t ever talk about inclusion. But I do think that if we’re really serious about human diversity and taking account of what individuals need, and want, and desire, then we need to move beyond that. Because it doesn’t seem to me to take those things very much into account. So where does that leave me? Well, a lot of despairing thoughts about, well, where do we go from here. And I guess for me, one of the issues was that at the time that a lot of this came up for me, I was living away from my original country.
So I was living in the UK. And the issue of belonging started to emerge for me as an individual. I’ve lived overseas lots. I’m now in Australia again. But where do I actually belong? And I think one of the things that become really important to me was that whole thing about– there is a yearning, a longing for something that is about history, and relationships, and work, and safety, and all of those things. I read an Irish philosopher called John O’Donohue, and he says we should split “belonging.” That if we think about it as “being” and as “longing,” then it encapsulates a really fundamental human desire.
So a longing for unity perhaps, or for closeness, or for a place are really important. They’re part of our being.
LOUISA: Yeah, I mean to me that is just so useful– that division. Because it really captures those central questions that I think a lot of what we have been touching on resonates with. And that is really this fundamental idea about what it means to be human. What are these fundamental things that make us human and that make us feel like we are able to flourish? And I think that idea of being and also the essential idea of connection that is in longing– that really we desire, we long for a connection to something, whether it be place, or person, or even ourselves and a spiritual– a bigger spiritual self, so–
Kelley: I think that’s right. And I think it necessarily entails thinking about my being, my inside, my inside world. And that’s to me what inclusion doesn’t come anywhere near. I spent some time the last couple of months talking to a group of people with intellectual disability. And they talked about what belonging meant to them. And it was very different within just one group. So for one person, it was about the place. She lived on a farm. And for her, that place was really central to who she was. For someone else, it was about work. For others, it was about history and the history of relationships together. So people could remember going to school together.
They might not have seen each other very much, but those memories were there. And the links between different groups and individuals is really important for some people. But it was– what belonging meant was very variable.
LOUISA: And I think that that is a really good place to end in our discussion in a sense– that it ties together a lot of what we have been discussing this week and will continue to discuss through the course. Which is basically this valuing of the diversity of human experience, and thinking through deeply what that can mean for different people in order to work towards a good life.

In this step Kelley Johnson and Louisa Smith, two of the Educators on this course, discuss the words inclusion and belonging and what they mean in the context of valuing human diversity.

While we often hear the word “inclusion” in contexts of disability — indeed, we have already heard it in the video in Step 1.5 — Kelley discusses three problems with the term:

  • it is often used but rarely defined;
  • it is not something that you can easily take control over (i.e. you can’t include yourself);
  • it often ignores what people want to be involved in, and how they want to be involved.
As Kelley says, inclusion is “a step along a long journey”, but it is not enough. Instead, she proposes that “belonging” may be a more useful term for promoting disability as a dimension of human diversity. Kelley mentions the work of John O’Donohue, who defined belonging as encompassing both “being” and “longing”. This definition frames belonging as a “fundamental human desire,” and suggests that everyone has a desire to belong in individual and unique ways.
In the next step, our guest presenters tell stories of belonging in their own diverse lives.

Talking points

  • Have you heard the term inclusion used in relation to disability in your context? Do you think it is important in your local context?
  • What are the differences between inclusion and belonging?
  • How does this discussion help you understand the concept of human diversity and a good life?
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