Calling Everyone: A Diversity Welcome

As a grassroots educator and activist, I am a huge proponent of creating safe environments for people to learn and thrive.  I don’t believe that people can truly let go of their inhibitions and indulge in sexuality education without a safe space to foster the growth. One of my favorites methods for creating safe spaces are Diversity Welcomes.

The purpose of a Diversity Welcome is to be as inclusive as possible, and to create an environment that encourages thinking outside of the box. Oftentimes when educating about sexuality, many people are left out of the conversation, and it’s those omissions that may shut people down. One way to avoid exclusion is to conduct a Diversity Welcome. A Diversity Welcome is a literal verbal welcoming of identities and diversity to the space. Let me elaborate…

I recently facilitated an Institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change in Houston, Texas with the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance. During our Institute (Recentering and Reclaiming Sexual Freedom as Fundamental Human Rights), someone spoke up and said that they knew that we were talking a lot about sexuality, but they were concerned that the asexual community was being left out of the conversation. I explained how I wanted everyone to feel included regardless of their identity, but wanted to note that we weren’t talking about many sexualities explicitly and that, personally, I was not able to speak for many communities. Our goal was to affirm that sexual freedom is a fundamental human right for all people. I explained that we hadn’t explicitly talked about differently abled folks, those who aren’t able to be out about their sexuality, people who are in the asexual community, among many others. I then promised to deliver a Diversity Welcome after lunch to provide a more inclusive space.

This is the Diversity Welcome that I wrote and used at Creating Change to create a safer space:

“I don’t know anyone’s backgrounds, identities, or experiences, but I do know that we all come forward with myriad intersectionalities, and I also know that there are many bodies and human beings who are not present.

I want to open this diversity welcome to be inclusive of all people’s rights to sexual freedom. I want to welcome people who are differently abled, who are spiritual, who are pagan, welcome people who are pansexual, who are great-grandparents, who are Native American, people who have had abortions, who have experienced sexual violence, welcome people who are not able to use the pronouns of their choice, who cannot afford to attend Creating Change, welcome those who have experienced family violence, who practice sex work, who aren’t able to kiss the person of their choice in public…”

After you, as the facilitator, have listed a variety of different identities and communities, you should begin speaking even slower to indicate that people in the audience should begin contributing and chiming in with the identities of those who they perceive to be missing from the space. This activity works best when people have their eyes closed, or are looking down. The facilitator can chime in with more identities when people seem hesitant, but make sure to “let silence ride” and allow space for comfortable silence so that those who are less outspoken have time to think and space to speak.

After the Diversity Welcome, you have a few options of how to move on. You can:

  • Talk about what people thought of the Diversity Welcome. Did they enjoy it? Did they feel like they had space to speak? Were there identities and communities that were still excluded?
  • Ask participants why they think that this activity was included.
  • Thank everyone for participating and move immediately into the next activity to keep things flowing and make the Diversity Welcome more natural.

The Diversity Welcome that I provided above is just my version of many combinations and infinite variety. Diversity Welcomes can change based on the audience, the lesson plan, and the goals that you have as the educator. Feel free to use the Diversity Welcome and adapt it to fit your needs.

Who do you want to welcome to the table?

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17 responses to “Calling Everyone: A Diversity Welcome

  1. Justyn,
    I enjoyed reading your post. This is a topic that all educators can relate to. Unfortunately, many do not take the issue of diversity seriously. Your opening statement for the conference you attended was awesome and thank you for sharing that. Even though an event and/or topic may not specifically be aimed toward certain groups, there is always something that everyone can get out of it.

    I also have to thank you for defining inclusive education. Being in the education field with my previous degrees in education, I have heard of and used the term inclusion, but not inclusive education.

    Krissy

  2. This is great, Justyn! I am always looking for ideas on how to begin a class or session about discussing sexuality. I wanted to hear more about the implementations the Welcome. How could something go wrong? The way you described it sounds really great. I intend to use it once i learn a little more about the Diversity Welcomes. I was trying to see the last link (“a great Diversity Welcome”) but it did not work. I am curious to hear how this has worked for others. Thanks again! Great post!

    • Oh no, Mark! The link worked when I posted it initially. Let me see what I can do about fixing that. In the meantime, you can check out: http://www.turning-the-tide.org/files/ResourceManualSection1-Intro+WelcomingActivities.pdf – Page 3 of that PDF also explains the Diversity Welcome, and includes discussion questions if you were interested in incorporating those. It seems that the initial site that I used took their Diversity Welcome down?

      Luckily, I’ve never had any problems when facilitating this activity, but I’m sure that some could come up. The good thing is that it creates a space for people to bring whoever they want into the room, therefore, no one they think of should be left out.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Justyn, this is a great tool. Thank you for introducing me to it. We do opening circles to center our group for (long trainings) and I think I am going to open our training series with this…you know, right before I dive into Eugenics.

    But seriously, i think this gives the participants a chance to realize that even the hidden chunks of themselves are being welcomed in, and it makes me all fuzzy. May or may not have teared up thinking about the effect of this at creating change.

    • Absolutely, I’m glad you enjoyed it, Erin! Perfect tool before diving into eugenics. It always makes me feel all fuzzy too. I like giving autonomy to the participants, and creating an inclusive, safe space for them, and in my experience, this activity has really accomplished that.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I am still learning how to be intentional about incorporating diversity objectives into my human sexuality curriculum. Like Mark, I question how this may not work. I have a hard time conceptualizing how this would be successful in one of the first undergraduate class sessions as a way to create a safe space for the semester. I am not sure if students would be responsive or fully understanding what is happening. I would like to learn more though. – Sarah Steele Roar

    • Sarah, thanks for your feedback. I’m curious as to what you think may not work? What are some roadblocks that you foresee? I’ve used this with people of all age groups, mostly in community settings, but never in a group made up solely of undergraduates. I think it would depend on the class, and the community. And it can be tailored to reach the communities’ needs. And you can always create discussion questions to help the students comprehend the purpose of the activity afterward.

      • I have had some class dynamics that I am not sure would respond well to this approach. While students may have the commonality of attending college, their motivation, interested, and level of openness vary; in some cases drastically. I think an assessment of the class dynamic would be key as well as the instructors ability to manage the conversation and responses. I definitely think it could be a great addition to undergraduate curriculum, but the instructor would have to be strategic.

  5. Justyn- Thank you so much for this post. Including a Diversity Welcome is a simple and sincere way of being inclusive. I think this is great for not only addressing a variety of people but to bring awareness to those who may not know the extent of “diversity”. I love that the people you listed covered social and economic identities as well as emotional and experiential.

    I once attended a workshop (I think it was a “Take Back the Night” event) where the person opening the discussion did a run through of the different types of people she knew were present. She listed, “some of you are athletes, some are parents, some of you have been homeless…” and that last one just struck me, I think about it to this day. In that relatively small room of college students, to hear that one of us had been homeless gave the rest of the evening such an intimate feeling. Speaking as someone who has experienced a version of a Diversity Welcome, it is well worth including in a presentation.

    • Thank you for sharing, Sarah! It’s great to hear that you’ve included a version of the Diversity Welcome that was useful for you personally. It would be imminent to know your participants on a more personal level to be able to tailor a welcome in that manner would be so intimate. One option to replicate this with a group who you may not know as well is to ask them to anonymously write down hidden aspects of their identity, or aspects they’re more cautious to share, and be transparent that you’ll read them aloud anonymously. Just an option! I appreciate your feedback.

  6. I really enjoyed your post. I do feel at times that I leave people out, and don’t mean to. I will try your exercise at my next speaking engagement. I also think this will be a great energizer.

  7. Justyn,

    Thanks for using this as your topic. As much as people consider themselves culturally aware and inclusive in their language a reminder of how we can be better is helpful. Sexuality educators should take time to shape language and behaviors to be more inclusive. To some it is hard to fathom that something that seems as benign as a pronoun is a powerful tool to exclude people from feeling joined to a group or included as valuable members of our society.

  8. Justyn,
    This was a great post! Thank you for all the information on a Diversity Welcome. This is something I think is crucial for sexuality education but is often overlooked. I know in my personal experiences, diversity was never addressed in my high school education and very slightly addressed in my undergraduate sex ed classes. Being inclusive is so important, and it’s what many sex ed curricula/lesson plans lack. Thanks for this though, I am going to keep it in mind and try to use it when I can!

  9. I had never heard of a Diversity Welcome before reading your post. Having this tool would have been so useful when addressing audiences in the past! Inclusivity really does make sexuality education more accessible for those who previously felt omitted from the conversation. I really like how this approach uses feedback and participation from the audience. Oftentimes when I’m not being as inclusive as I’d like to be it’s because I do not realize that I’m excluding identities and communities. Having a respectful and welcoming group remind me of those I may not have included would be helpful and aid in my growth as a sexuality educator.

    I completely agree with you in that people need a safe environment to learn and thrive. Thank you for working so hard at creating these safe spaces and inspiring me to work harder!

  10. This is great Justyn; it’s an approach I had not heard of before. I love the idea of the speaker publicly welcoming so many different groups and identities, and declaring the space a safe one for them. Hearing such a speech from someone in a position of authority would make me feel safe and included. I might worry about encouraging them to chime in, as it might put the onus on them to declare some part of their identity that may be stigmatized, and implies that they need to announce this identifier or they will be excluded by default. Maybe they have been shamed out of declaring themselves as one thing or another, or have been accused of “flaunting” a part of their identity that others found disapproving, and be reticent to contribute. I might balk – or at least hesitate and feel nervous – if given the opportunity to announce a piece of my identity that maybe no one else in the group shares. On the flip side, if I were in the audience and the speaker merely reads a diverse list of possible identities, even if I do not fit into any of the listed categories, I would get the general gist that “everyone is welcome here” and still experience the warm sensation of being included in the group.

  11. Pingback: Throwing Snowballs for Safe Spaces | Teaching Sex Ed·

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