April is Diversity Month

Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of our civilization. These are the words of Mahatma Gandhi, and they are especially resonant this month as April is Diversity Month. In 2022, this observance has more meaning than it has held in the past for me. The divisions that confront us are pronounced and on the precipice of calcifying. How can we move to a place where what separates us is not the most significant thing about us, a place where all voices are heard and where all people are seen?

The Bundling Effect

The genesis of our contemporary challenges can be traced back to what I describe as the bundling effect. The bundling effect occurs when a person (on either side of an issue) demands that the only way to advance their point is for the person they are engaged with to accept everything in their bundle as the undisputed truth. If the person does not accept the entire bundle, they are deemed ignorant or become a perpetual enemy. This approach only forces more people to the margins of the discussion where true understanding and resolution do not reside. I believe that there is a different way to engage, one that provides on-ramps to understanding and true progress as opposed to division and mistrust.

Instead of bundling our issues, we should advance them as standalone items. This is more nuanced and allows for the person we are engaging to process clearly what the issue is. This will also lead to more dialogue, as the engagement will not take on an all-or-nothing posture which can feel like a form of bullying. In our discourse, we should allow more people to ask questions which can increase understanding and reduce the drama around certain issues. Presenting our issues outside of a bundle can lead to more individuals realizing that many of our issues are the same but are only viewed through a different lens.

My Personal Experience

I have experienced this several times during my life. Early in my career, I worked with a fellow teacher in the History Department of a school district in another state. I initially thought, because of this person’s political leanings, he and I were unalterably opposed to one another. I thought that because he voted a certain way that meant all these other things about him were true. I could not have been more off the mark. The more that we worked together, the more the connections between us were illuminated and I found him to be open-minded, but resolute in his convictions. I would like to believe that he thought the same of me. We also found out that we both had a passion for learning about and teaching World War II and that we both grew up as athletes. My preconceived notions and my bundle were obliterated, and I found a trusted colleague and a friend along the way.

All these years later, I still remember the impact of that experience and it is in that vein that I ask all of us to be more reflective and discard our bundles in the name of collective progress. I am reminded of these words:

“It can be difficult to find common ground when all some wish to discuss is our differences.”

C.A.A. Savastano

When we lead with our respective bundles, we are leading with difference instead of our commonality. Today, many of our discussions related to educational access start with amplifying how far apart the two sides are and that if you cede any ground by coming to the middle, this is viewed as capitulation. Moving to the middle requires us to move away from simple slogans and the infinity fight- where the goal is the fight, not resolution. When I was much younger, I thought fighting was the same as resolving the issue.

Laying Down Your Bundle

What I have come to find out is that assuming that I had to fight, instead of dialogue, was the greatest manifestation of deficit thinking. Today, I seek to engage all people by looking for what connects us as opposed to believing that we can never be connected. I have laid down my bundle so that my issues can be discussed individually and that has allowed me to see the individual in front of me. So, as we observe Diversity Month, I encourage more of us to put our bundles down and to pick up our fellow human beings.

Chief DEI Officer DeWayne Street

Leander ISD Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion DeWayne Street contributed this article. For more information on the district’s DEI initiatives, please visit www.leanderisd.org/equitydiversityinclusion.