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Inclusion is Catchy

By Dr. John Johnson, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

two catch boxes, blue and yellow cubes with Whitman logos on the front.

Welcome back to “The Wallas” everyone! We are excited to start the new year and thrilled that each and every one of you is a part of this community. Each week on Wednesdays, you should expect to find a message or resource here related to advancing inclusive excellence at Whitman. In some weeks, the content will be useful information related to the activities of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion. Other weeks, the communication may be focused on a particular heritage month or upcoming program related to diversity, equity, inclusion, antiracism and/or accessibility (DEIAA) at the College. You will not want to miss Inclusive Excellence Wednesdays.

For this first missive of the year, I want to spotlight the Whitman “catch boxes.” Over the course of the year, at most large indoor gatherings, you will likely find a couple of cushioned cubed wireless microphones being tossed around. These catch boxes are not just a cool use of technology, but part of an intentional effort to provide inclusion and accessibility. Microphones are an important tool to amplify sound in large rooms so that more people have access to the content that is being shared. The microphone, ASL interpretation, as well as real-time captioning (also known as Communication Access Real-time Translation or CART) services, help to ensure that content is accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Using the microphone is not about whether or not you think you need to use it or want to use it, but is about community and universal design.

We recognize that some people have genuine discomfort related to using a microphone. Maybe they are uncomfortable speaking in public, don’t like the sound of their voice modified through the technology, or just feel confident in their ability to speak loudly without it and project. No matter the reason, as Emily Shuman succinctly explained in the Rocky Mountain ADA Center blog, if your intention is to be inclusive, “you must realize that your discomfort does not outweigh the accessibility benefits using the mic provides.” Emily goes on to explain that in addition to helping provide access to those with hearing limitations, “microphone amplification can also be helpful for people with attention disorders, audio processing disabilities or cognitive disabilities.” Using the microphone is an act of inclusion, while declining or refusing to use the microphone can contribute to the perpetuation of ableism and audism.

Last fall, the first Whitman Today Wednesday message was entitled, More Us, More We. That essay spoke to the importance of us coming together and building a community. We spoke about how mere proximity does not automatically translate to community. We have to treat community like a verb, not a noun.

We want to encourage you all to use and appreciate the availability of microphones at events because you are thinking about and considering the needs of others in your community. The beauty of the Whitman community is that, on the whole, we make an effort to look out for and care about each other — students, staff, faculty and alumni all. And effort is the key. We will not become the welcoming and inclusive community we all want, need and deserve without effort.

It’s not easy to engage across difference. It takes effort because deficit narratives and biases about the “other” are all around us. It’s not easy to have your views challenged. It takes effort because we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people and need to actively grow our capacity for cultural humility. It’s not easy to be mindful about your word choices and body language when attempting to communicate in environments laden with power differentials. It takes effort because while we may not always be focused on them, certain social identities we hold influence how others interpret our behavior. Community does not come easy, but it is absolutely worth the effort.

Here at Whitman, we work to promote diversity without dominance, equity without benevolence, inclusion without othering, belonging without assimilation, and encourage cultural humility, cultural pluralism and cultural wealth. As I have explained in previous messages, this means striving to create an environment where someone who is in the numerical minority would not and should not feel like their needs or concerns are less important. It means acknowledging that the playing field is not equal and avoiding the tendency to see our efforts at leveling the field as charity or generosity. It means building a community where no one is degraded, diminished, ridiculed or marginalized based on their identity/identities. And fostering a culture where no one is expected to assimilate or present themselves inauthentically in order to be accepted, valued or loved.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are core values at Whitman. Every area, unit, department and individual can contribute to making the college more inclusive in their own way. We need your help to achieve our inclusive excellence goals. One thing we can all do is remember to use the catch boxes when they are available and encourage others to do so.

More Us, More We.

Go Blues!

Published on Aug 30, 2023
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