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Chapter 3

Intentional Inclusion — Thoughts on Galvanizing a Diverse and Inclusive University

By Scott Bowman


Acquiring an understanding of the relevance, necessity and applicability of a life committed to diversity and inclusion has been (and continues to be) a lifelong journey.  Along the way, lessons have been learned regarding the fundamental difference between the interrelated and often co-described “diversity and inclusion” (consider “diversity” as a noun and “inclusion” as a verb), the thoughtful and careful examination of what diversity and inclusion look like, and the work that is necessary to manifest the efforts of a diverse and inclusive space.  Recently, I have been called to think about these principles more carefully and I would like to share some of those thoughts in this chapter.  

In presenting these reflections and how I believe they have facilitated a more robust knowledge of diversity and inclusion, I will be utilizing an autoethnographic approach.  According to Ellis and Bochner, “autoethnography is an autobiographical genre of writing and research that displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural” (739).  In other words, it is a scholarly scrutiny of my personal relationship to the phenomenon – in this case, my relationship to diversity and inclusion.  

In this chapter, I will describe several reflections that I believe have shaped my understanding of diversity and inclusion and how those reflections help me better understand what real, applicable diversity and inclusion can look like at Texas State University. 

Diversity Discovered

I was raised in Phoenix, Arizona.  Normally, the words “Phoenix, Arizona” and “diverse” are not referred to in the same sentence; however, the city is actually quite diverse.  While the level of diversity does not compare to cities like Los Angeles or New York City, there are very few cities in America where you can see White, Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian populations and communities on any given day. There is an active and engaging LGBTQIA community in the city and there are numerous elderly populations that retire to the greater Phoenix area.  In addition, there are numerous active military and military veterans in the city and, as is the case with most major metropolitan cities, there is unmistakable economic diversity.  From my earliest recollections through college and into the workforce, I grew up with friends and acquaintances that fit all of the aforementioned demographic characteristics.  

Much like Texas State University, the structure of my geographic space was diverse (the noun).  Yet, I also recognize that much of the “diversity” that the city held was not “inclusive.”  Social issues that arose during my time in Phoenix were often isolated to the group that was protesting the issue, with minimal (yet important) support from “outside groups.”  Over the years, I recall politicians, professors, students, activists, and other citizens that would ardently speak on the importance and value of establishing “diversity” in workplaces, in universities, and in communities. I was one of those people, speaking from a variety of the aforementioned roles; yet I was speaking about the “noun of diversity” without the “verb of inclusion.”  It was not until I returned to school for my graduate studies that I began to understand the importance of “inclusiveness.”     

Inclusion Realized

When I decided to return to Arizona State University, I decided that I was open to the area of study that I was going to pursue.  As a result, I (literally) flipped through the university’s catalogue and read the course descriptions for each department.  When I arrived at the “School of Justice Studies” course, I found courses titled Economic Justice, Race, Class and Gender, and Gender and Feminist Inequality – to name a few.  Upon acceptance and enrollment, I had a tremendously diverse faculty and a diverse cohort, which was an ideal setting for a student who was committed to the ideologies of diversity.  However, it was not until I began my coursework that I realized that simply existing in a diverse space was not enough to produce an inclusive experience.  In the midst of course discussions of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc., and justice, the accompanying narrative of the faculty and students was a clear indication of the gap between “diversity” and “inclusion.”  There were countless times where I found myself reflecting “I never knew that” or “why weren’t more people actively outraged about this.”  I realized that, while I was in full support of the “diversity noun,” I was severely lacking in the practice of inclusiveness.

Through several years of graduate school, I learned the importance and relevance of inclusiveness in the praxis of diversity.  I began to recognize the similarities and differences among diverse groups, the importance of supportive action (both verbal and physical) to ensure inclusive decision-making, and simply learning to “listen” to the experiences of others, rather than simply believing that diversity in a social setting should look and feel the way that I believed it should.  Actions as simple as marching with others in their calls for true inclusiveness and speaking directly to those that believed in diversity without practicing inclusiveness became regular practices.  This paradigmatic shift produced better, stronger, and more authentic relationships with the people that I shared diverse space with and formed a shared, collective vision of the interrelatedness of shared issues.  Despite the fact that I was/am a heterosexual, African-American, able-bodied, cisgender male, I realized that female, racial/ethnic, LGBTQIA issues were also my issues in an inclusive space. 

Inclusiveness Tested

Upon arriving at Texas State University, my efforts were closely aligned with the education that I had received at Arizona State University.  In many ways, college (at any level) exists in a bubble.  Students hold the privilege (if they exercise it) to engage the ideology of diversity and inclusiveness in coursework, in their living situations, and in their clubs and organizations; however, it is often sheltered.  Ironically, many students (regardless of the university) arrive at college with minimal exposure to diverse groups and go through their college years without a meaningful exposure to diverse faculty, students, and clubs and organizations.   Ultimately, it does a fundamental disservice to students’ preparation for post-college employment, as they will often be forced to interact with diverse populations in unique and important settings.  Moreover, they can leave a university without understanding the interrelatedness of their identities to the identities of others.  

Since this was my first post-doc position, this is where my test of diversity and inclusiveness began. At various times during my tenure at Texas State, I have spoken, marched, and protested for a variety of issues in support of a variety of groups.  I have developed courses and mentored students on how to become stewards of inclusiveness as they go into the workforce and into graduate studies.  I have challenged students, staff, other faculty members, and administrators when their views of diversity were not aligned with the importance of inclusiveness.  Other faculty members, staff, and administrators that I have met at Texas State over the years have held similar views on the importance of diversity and inclusion.  Yet, there is much work to be done – particularly with regards to inclusiveness. 

As a university, the faculty, staff, students at Texas State University are privileged to be at one of the most diverse institutions in the United States.  We serve a variety of racial/ethnic students, a robust LGBTQIA student population, significant numbers of disabled students, a disproportionately higher number of veteran students, an increasing number of international students, and many others (as well as their respective intersectionalities) (Crenshaw, 95).  There are numerous programs that are in place to support these students; however, many of these programs take place in isolation, with non-in-group students being largely unaware of these efforts.  There are personal, academic, and professional issues that these students face that are largely unknown to the rest of the student body, which can happen in a diverse space, yet simply cannot happen in a truly inclusive setting.  I believe that this is the fundamental test that all Texas State University students face within this diverse setting. 

The Importance of Inclusivity   

I believe my experiences and autoethnographic reflection have shaped my understanding of the phenomenon of “diversity and inclusion.”  In contemporary society, it is a challenge to exist in spaces that are not diverse.  Furthermore, I believe that most individuals share a commitment to diversity.  It is the commitment to inclusiveness – particularly the purposeful action that is associated with inclusiveness – that is the challenge that remains.  According to Sherbin and Rashid, “Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen” (2).  In the remaining section, I will attempt to highlight three areas of inclusiveness that I believe are essential to move Texas State University forward as the university that stands at the forefront of producing smart, empathetic, active students that support a diverse ideology. 

Inclusiveness as careful

Nobody is perfect at the work of inclusiveness.  Those that work diligently at the efforts of inclusiveness often forget to examine who is (or is not) “at the table”, forget to account for the narratives and issues of others, and forget to actively support those in need.  The establishment of an inclusive space happens neither quickly, nor effortlessly.  At times, our words and phrases are insensitive or exclusionary and our ideologies of diversity are perceived to be contradictory or harmful to our perceived self-interests.  Moreover, attempting to transition a populous thinking towards inclusion is often met with resistance, anger, and/or indifference.  

The efforts towards an inclusive university must be carefully and thoughtfully constructed.  At Texas State University, we must begin to carefully examine exactly what diversity means to students of diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds (including White students), LGBTQIA students, veterans, disabled students, etc. (and their intersectionalities) and what we can collectively do to manifest a more inclusive university.  This is of paramount responsibility for the administrators, faculty, staff, and students that have committed to be a part of the diverse, Bobcat community.  In order to take the first steps towards an inclusive university, we must understand that co-existing in a diverse space is simply not enough and that there must be careful conversations on how to ensure that everyone’s voice matters.  Much like my transition into my graduate program, we must listen and commit to an inclusive space.  

Inclusiveness as work

Inclusiveness is work.  It is a daily work that will constantly test your commitment and will not always reward your best efforts.  It is a fluid that requires an immeasurable attention to details that most of us miss.  You will have friends and family that will test your commitment to inclusion, based on outdated paradigms and useless rhetoric.  On your best, most inclusive days, it remains tremendously uncomfortable.  Much like my earliest participation in diversity without the comprehension of inclusion, diversity is an empty promise – a fabrication of intention – without the commitment to inclusiveness.    

At Texas State University, we must put in collective work – regardless of the discomfort, struggle, and effort.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. suggests, “The ultimate measure of a {man} is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  In our respective roles at Texas State, we have the collective opportunity to stand tall in our moments of challenge and controversy, once we commit to inclusion in the same manner that we have committed to diversity.  The establishment of an inclusive university will not take place overnight and will not be universally engaged; yet I would contend that it is the only way that we move forward, maximizing the potential for our students, faculty, staff and administrators to become careful, global stewards of inclusion. 

Inclusiveness as possible

Finally, we often become jaded with efforts that seem insurmountable.  Arguably, there is no more arduous work than that which changes a society, a paradigm, or an ideology.  For example, not only did women’s right to vote, marriage equality, and civil rights unmistakably not take place overnight, they also were seen as unfeasible prior to their various inceptions.  Each social action had both in-group challenges to the existing paradigms and support from careful and hardworking allies that desire a more just and inclusive society.  As a university, we have demonstrated a clear commitment to diversity – similarly, we must demonstrate an identical commitment to inclusion – something that Roberson refers to as “identity-conscious practices” (231).

Having been on the Texas State University campus for the past twelve years and witnessed our significant growth and expansion, it seems the appropriate time begin earnestly and carefully planning for the possibility of sharing a dynamically inclusive space.  Examining effective and inclusive “identity-conscious practices” for faculty, staff, administrators, and students must be the start of making the possible achievable.  Students that walk through the quad and recognize that the commitment to others is a commitment to the maximization of inclusivity and the betterment of their future interactions makes diversity and inclusion possible.  Faculty that refresh their courses, lectures and assigned readings to incorporate stories and perspectives that are often ignored also take the first steps towards interactions that make diversity and inclusion possible.  Staff and administrators that take the time to meet students (and faculty) where they are and establish a cooperative collaboration to solve problems and achieve solutions additionally make it possible for a diverse and inclusive space.  My personal commitment to Texas State University’s diverse and inclusive space is to serve a three-year appointment as the Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusion.

Ultimately, the simultaneous commitments to diversity and inclusion of Texas State University faculty, staff, students, and administration can make the possible achievable – the creation of an inclusive space with value, trust, and advancement.  This is my humble wish for my university.  

About the Author

Scott Bowman

Scott Bowman

Dr. Scott Bowman is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice and the Special Assistant to the Provost for Inclusion and Diversity.  He has published two-edited books, several book chapters, and in many peer-reviewed journals, including Criminal Justice Policy Review, Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice and Criminology,and Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.  His research areas include juvenile justice, youth development, and race/ethnicity, class and the criminal justice system.  In his commitment to Social Justice, he also works on numerous inclusion and diversity projects and programming on campus and in the community.