Chaitali Botcha is a graduate of Texas A&M University and current master’s in Medical Science student at the University of North Texas, Health Science Center and central regional lead Cengage Student Ambassador
DEI&B has been a topic of discussion for decades. In recent years, it has been increasingly more difficult to assess and implement in a cohesive way. What is DEI&B exactly and how should institutions tackle this aspect of higher education in the United States?
What is DEI&B?
DEI&B stands for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. It is believed to be extremely important for workplace morale at jobs and classroom morale in schools. Higher education institutions are not only more successful when they embrace the diversity of background, thought, experience, and ideas, but in return bring more success to their students when they graduate and go into the workforce. Students stand out to employers and become attractive as applicants with their experiences in an equitable institution.
That being said, I personally believe that having an inclusive environment starts first at the classroom level. If a student does not feel like they belong or feel that they are unable to rely on their faculty and staff when it comes to DEI&B, then we definitely have a problem. College is a time where a lot of students truly step out of their comfort zone and experience life in a new light. We have students coming from various parts of the country or world, who have not necessarily had exposure to diversity back home. Thus, it is even more important for a school to show students that they truly care for them. It is also important to show students that they should respect one another and respect their faculty in return.
It is not so much of what faculty can do, but more so what they can show. I truly believe that actions speak louder than words and have experienced it firsthand at my undergrad institution. For me, diversity presents itself in many ways including age, gender, ethnic background, cultural background, mental or physical disabilities, innate abilities, talents, etc. Notice how my list consists of descriptions that one may not typically think of when the term DEI&B is used. I say this because having an inclusive environment in a school does not just necessarily mean having students of color or international students present. It is about having a student who is unique in their own way and being able to understand, accept, and respect them in the same way as the next student.
For example, if a student has a disability, many universities provide accommodations to ensure they have a great learning experience. Or, if a student is struggling academically, universities have resources such as peer tutoring, supplemental instruction, or teacher assistant office hours. Even for students who have a language barrier, due to recently moving from another country, some universities provide translation services. I have also personally seen many ethnically driven clubs on campus intended to help students embrace their culture and make international students feel right at home.
Diversity and inclusion exists in various forms
What I would want faculty and administrators to know is that creating an inclusive environment simply starts with treating everyone with the same level of respect.
I have a friend who has a disability and requires a wheelchair. While her professor was kind, she actually felt like she was treated in a way where she felt less than. Her professor’s constant questioning if she was ok made her feel like she was taken pity on. My friends, there is a difference between sympathy and empathy. Why look at people differently because of their differences? Acknowledge it, accommodate for them, but don’t constantly bring it up. While it may feel like you are doing them a favor, you might in fact be making them feel uncomfortable.
Another example where empathy was lacking is when another friend was struggling in her class. She was not passing and tried to visit her professor’s office hours on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, she felt that her professor was stone cold and did not care enough for her academic performance to genuinely help her understand concepts. While I understand professors may be busy or preoccupied with their research, it is still their duty to help students. This means understanding their students’ needs and providing resources to them if they themselves are not able to assist.
Equality is different than equitability
There are definitely some systemic barriers that I believe need to be addressed. I would like to start off by stating that equality is different than equitability. For example, referring back to my disabled friend’s case, her professor was not treating her as equal. Though the professor was kind and tried to help her, these efforts made her feel less than. However, my friend never said she did not appreciate the accommodations and resources that were provided to her. She was in fact very grateful for them.
Having various resources to accommodate for every student’s needs is called being equitable. Unfortunately, there are many colleges that may not have these accommodations. I myself have seen some buildings without ramps or even elevators. My own dorm did not have an elevator and I often wondered how those with disabilities would get up. There should not need to be a separate dorm with elevators for those with disabilities. We all should be able to live together in one place.
Making DEI&B magic happen
We can begin to address these shortcomings by taking into consideration the population of the student body and accommodating their needs. It starts with student leadership. I have personally noticed, as an executive board member of multiple organizations, that individual needs are often overlooked. When planning events and ordering food, the menu usually never contains gluten-free, nut-free, vegetarian, or vegan options. So, whenever I am made aware, I always make it a point to remind my team that these have to be included. I wish that every leadership team on campus would accommodate for dietary needs, whether that be for religious or food-allergy reasons. Being accommodating where you can really matters and shows your peers that you care.
I would like to end this discussion by leaving you with something to think about. Everyone has a voice and can take action when they see disparities. Allyship is something that takes everyone’s involvement and perspective to make DEI&B magic happen. We must create real meaningful intention to bring equity to campuses countrywide, not because we can, but because we want to!
Get more student insights from Chaitali by watching the recording from our webinar, Creating DEIB Magic Through Real Intention, where she served as a student panelist.