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Report from NCDD 2008: Inclusion Challenge

At the 2008 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation, we focused on 5 challenges identified by participants at our past conferences as being vitally important for our field to address. This is one in a series of five posts featuring the final reports from our “challenge leaders.”

Inclusion Challenge: Walking our talk in terms of bias and inclusion.

What are the most critical issues of inclusion and bias right now in the D&D community and how do we address them? What are the most critical issues related to bias, inclusion, and oppression in the world at large and how can we most effectively address these issues through the use of dialogue and deliberation methods?

Challenge Leader:
Leanne Nurse, Program Analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Report on the Inclusion Challenge:

Core Questions

1. What are the most critical issues of inclusion and bias right now in our D&D community and how do we address them?

2. What are the most critical issues related to bias, inclusion and oppression in the world at large and how can we most effectively address these issues through the use of dialogue and deliberation methods?

Opening Comments

1. Why is this work so urgent?
– Continued oppression and suffering kills the sprit and the body
– Three poisons of anger, greed and ignorance mangle the genius that is in each of us

2. This moment in history offers us a unique window of opportunity to:
– Have the conversations we don’t like having
– Meet the people who aren’t like us
– Do the work we may have put off

3. How can we do this now when others have tried before us?
– Co-creating the world we promised our grandchildren demands that we both revolt and evolve. If we choose, we can use this weekend to revolt against old patterns and beliefs.
– The daily work of deep self-reflection reminds us that we possess an unlimited store of wisdom and compassion. We can spur our own human evolution despite institutional opposition.

If we are the people we’ve been waiting for, let’s use this time together to make a great leap forward toward a just, sustainable world.

Conference and Workshop Observations and Comments

Comment 1

What was the beginning of NCDD like? Picture NCDD as being conceived using DNA mainly from white, middle-class, well-educated people, and then grown in the Petri dish of American culture, with all the biases inherent in that culture. NCDD grows, and we hear continual laments that we need more diversity. We need to include more people of color, to appeal to more people of different ages, from different social classes, and with different levels of education; people from different religions and from different parts of the political spectrum. So NCDD tries to “bring in” more diversity. In trying to have more people of color, is this too much like a white family adopting some African-American kids?

Maybe what we really need to do is to go back to the original kernel, the original Petri dish and DNA. Maybe we can’t genuinely grow in ways that overcome bias and increase inclusivity unless we are willing to question the original kernel, the first seed at the start of the NCDD, and ask: “What kind of DNA do we need in order for the organization that grows from it to naturally develop diversity, to naturally include inclusivity? What “culture” would the Petri dish need to hold to provide a nurturing environment for the DNA to grow in?

What would growth from a seed that contained the DNA of people of color, working class people, people with less formal education, younger people, conservative people, look like? Do we need to ”start over” in some sense, with a different DNA mix placed in a different “multicultural” medium in the Petri dish, in order to truly address the Bias and Inclusivity Challenge?

Comment 2

As a newcomer to this whole thing, I was excited by all of the transformative ideas and enthusiasm. I was taken aback, though, by an overwhelming sense of disregard for the space each facilitator was creating. For people committed to opening minds and respecting voice, I witnessed a significant amount of individual rejection toward facilitator activities, snide side comments and walking out of the room – as if “I don’t have anything to learn here.” As a young person, there feels a sense of entitlement or know-it-all-ness by more experienced people that doesn’t jive with the message of wisdom through process. Everyone here is a facilitator; respect other facilitators and the space they create!

Comment 3

Create New Legacy (Coming to the table):
– Recover history in order to change current perspective of racism; look back at roots to move forward.
– Table of brotherhood, and sisterhood. Table of reconciliation. Reconciliation is a place where we all come together.
– Truth (sharing history and impact) + Justice (action) + Misery (compassion) + Peace
– Ask ourselves: where am I? Where am I in the process of reconciliation?
– Move beyond binary story (Black/white) because it limits capacity to develop a collective story – foster complicated thoughts.
– Compassion for those that have yet found strength is able to come to the table, to enter into the conversation.
– Forgiveness, compassion, listen

Comment 4

– Create a space for dialogue and difficult conversations and space to address taboo topics
– Translate conversations into action projects
– Balance expectation
– Authentic conversation and yet program needs to be institutionally embedded
– Need layers of support

Comment 5

From one group doing to another group, to people doing for other people, to everyone doing with one another with compassion to welcome anger for healing.

Comment 6

Walk the Talk – In our organization, having a lot of people do the work is not the same as having a lot of people participate

Comment 7

White folks need to do their work to undo racism. It’s so unconscious.

Comment 8

If inclusion is a serious challenge, there needs to be thought and effort put into broadening the circle to include people with disabilities.

Comment 9

How do we examine the whiteness that lives in this organization to raise our awareness of its impact? How are authors of color represented at our book table? How/where is the diversity in our presenters and attendees, why/why not?

Comment 10

How about ‘dating’ the white privilege conference. They have figured out a lot about inclusion (of disabled, POC, youth, transgender, etc.) D&D is better on process awareness. A ‘dating relationship’, where neither compromises its identity, would benefit both

Comment 11

I notice that few commenters or challenge leaders have actually offered solutions (answers to the ‘how’) to the two core questions asked in this challenge.

Comment 12

Sometimes it seems this organization has a greater interest in the composition of its group than in understanding the complexity and rigor of its actual field of practice. Can we be so inclusive so as to dilute the quality of conversations among professional facilitators of change, and considerations of the “technology” of our methods and expertise? Yes, our mission, values, and practice is about the full and fair participation of our diverse citizenry.

Yet we must not cower from, or be embarrassed about, a focus on the improvement and advancement of our streams of civic engagement with whomever chooses/or does choose to join in this field of inquiry and practice. Obsessive navel gazing by guilt-ridden white progressives (and justice activists/advocates no less) is silly and probably slows down the change process. Focus on the “methods” to address bias, racism, inclusion, and oppression in the larger society…..and “others” will hopefully come, if they are called to the work.

Comment 13

Sub-plenary – Trans-generational:

– Listen. Recognition that each individual is not able to speak for their entire generation. All share experience of being discriminated against based on age.
– Let go of assumptions about power; move to power sharing.
– We are all conduits for the next generation.
– Simple words make a big difference: “I heard you.”
– Need to bring all of our wisdom (young and old) together.
– Shake your storyline – make yourself uncomfortable, reflection/self-refection of old behaviors
– Ask ourselves: how can I help you get to the next level?
– I matter, we matter. Each of us has value. We are all equal.
– Next conference, begin with a learning lab.
– Shift idea that wisdom will trickle down – build mentor relationships

Walking the talk means White folks and POC in affinity groups and then coming together to dialogue.

Comment 14

Ways of soliciting participation in workshops – some facilitators did well at getting white male voice – need more tools to use them among ourselves!

Need to address and talk about power and culture.

Panelists on conservative sub-plenary – some diversity but where are the women and people of color, poor/working class….?

Where are the grassroots programs that bring communities of color, people in poverty, youth, or immigrant communities together? They are doing great work! We are missing out when they are not presenting here!

Closing Comments

– Factoids about bias and inclusion issues in today’s world
– The current sub-prime meltdown is the single biggest loss of wealth for people of color since the Depression, totaling between $164 and $213 billion
– There are more than 2 million people in America’s jails, most of them POC
– Felony convictions prevent 4 million African-Americans from voting
– Almost 70% of African-American children are born out of wedlock
– In job referrals, whites will refer other whites 76% vs. 45% for black applicants
– In calling for emergency help (accident/seizure in street), whites will call for help for other whites 75% of the time vs. 38% of the time for black victims
– Reviewing Challenge Ideas About Bias and Inclusion
– Critical issues in our D&D community?
– Ethnic, gender, age and class exclusion
– Cultural incompetence
– Ignorance/indifference about the value of different D&D methods, how non-traditional methods support sustainable results
– Most critical issues in the world at large
– Violence, especially state-sponsored; including family/domestic violence
– Poverty, esp. in childhood
– Preventable disease
– Solutions We See
– Challenging/changing our own beliefs and world views (“Traces of the Trade” and American University Dialogue Group)
– Partnering to learn the on-the-ground reality of others (Vets for Vets and their partner organizations)
– Using effective national/global networks to shed light on success stories and long-standing challenges (NCDD, Harold Saunders’ Sustained Dialogue)

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