A case for Radical Inclusivity

Spring on campus Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo.

One arrives at William Jewell College met by banners professing the college’s “Radical Inclusivity.” What a wonderful direction for this historically white, socio-economically privileged school! In light of recent – and less recent – allegations about exclusion at Jewell, what better motto for the school to marry itself to than “Radical Inclusivity?” 

A diligent critical thinker will be somewhat hesitant to accept Radical Inclusivity at face value. What have we learned from our critical thinking curriculum if not that underdetermined words – like radical and inclusivity – are given meaning only if located within a specific context? For example, liberal inclusivity is a remarkably different notion than communist inclusivity. 

We will pursue an argument about Jewell’s Radical Inclusivity by offering first a somewhat stable meaning of the slogan and working to reveal the extent to which institutional goals and actions by Jewell can reasonably be considered to meet our definition.

This paragraph presents a definitional analysis of Radical Inclusivity given that it is being treated in a specific circumstance. What I assert is a necessarily basic definition given on no authority other than my being a participant in the English language, although I have a hard time producing a counter-definition which does not at least involve what I will present. 

Inclusivity is a tendency to modify boundaries in a way which expands possibilities for engagement. In this context, we can take it as implied in the definition that we are referring to possibilities for engagement relating somehow to Jewell. Inclusivity is modified here by the word radical. If radical is to mean anything substantive in its human dimension, it should refer at least to qualitative difference in something foundational. Although this is not strictly definitional, you might think of radical change as something which creates exponential difference, if focus were held to the astronomical rather than numerical subtleties of that word. More like white becoming black than nine becoming three,  radicalism alters the way in which power is arranged. 

Using the word radical to modify inclusivity, somehow regarding Jewell, we arrive at this minimal definition of Radical Inclusivity: a tendency to expansively modify boundaries in a way which creates a qualitative difference in the possibilities for engagement regarding Jewell. As a basic definition, Jewell can be said to fulfill the  minimal requirement of Radical Inclusivity if and only if the facts of Jewell meet the basic definition. We will attempt to both better understand and answer the question by reading from a pertinent institutional document: Diversity & Inclusion Plan for Jewell 2017 – 2018.

The Diversity & Inclusion Plan is a document comprised of goals for improving diversity and inclusion, and methods aimed at meeting those goals. It is important to note that this document predates the slogan Radical Inclusivity, so it is unfair to claim that its intention regarded the slogan. Nonetheless, this document offers our best insight into what Jewell has in mind with Radical Inclusivity. The slogan was inaugurated in context of this document, and the document reveals pertinent currents in how the college idealizes itself. Notable themes among the goals include : training initiatives for incoming students – goals A1 and B2 in the 2017-2018 D&I plan –, faculty skills development – B3 and B4 – and administrative policy changes – A3 and B1. 

Given that these themes deal with issues of space and interaction at Jewell, we can fairly specify our definition of Radical Inclusivity as follows: A tendency to expansively modify boundaries in a way which creates a qualitative difference in the possibilities for engagement at and within Jewell. This is a helpful qualification of Radical Inclusivity which Jewell seems sincerely dedicated to fulfilling. 

It seems to me that the most likely among the goals to substantively meet – rather than merely qualify and accustom – the definition of Radical Inclusivity is goal A4: “A dedicated team of students, faculty, and staff will be created who are willing to act as active agents of change for the transformation of William Jewell College. Meaningful growth over the long term also requires that these leaders attempt to catalyze a long view of change.” As the best candidate, I will deal first with this goal and the methods aimed at meeting it. If these methods reveal some way to substantively meet the definition, we can say Jewell is at least minimally fulfilling its goal of Radical Inclusivity. 

Most of the methods offered toward meeting goal A4 fall into the same semantic trap shackling most of this well-meaning document – working to define and administer while failing to offer methods with real Radical Inclusivity potential. The first method offered has the most potential to meet our definition: “Student representatives from each of the following organizations function as the Student Work Group for Diversity and Inclusion on campus (BSA, Mi Gente, QUILTBAG, International Students, Feminists).” 

At first glance, this may seem like a good, valuable option toward increasing the inclusion of marginalized students in non-marginal space, but the logic underlying this method creates far more vicious implications. Take a look at the list of organizations provided and ask yourself, “What do these groups have in common?” 

Here is what I find: Groups not focused primarily on American white men. Far more makes them unique; this is a sort of homogenization of marginal experience whereby we haphazardly invent one unified group tasked with speaking for all those other than American white men. Recreated by this logic is a crucial power distinction, the ever-pervasive difference: white men and everyone else. 

The second method offered for goal A4 follows a similar power logic: “Student Senate Cabinet – Conduct six Town Hall Forums during the year with a Campus Climate Review as the first order of discussion at each Forum (“when they listen to students, Colleges often change or refocus priorities”).” 

The interpolated quotation is not a logic of inclusivity. The method, wholly, is not a logic of Radical Inclusivity. There are no opportunities for new types of engagement at and within Jewell, just more opportunities afforded within an unchanging paternal structure. The logic is one of concessions, not inclusivity.

One might want to argue that, still, goal A2 regarding an increase in real diversity should qualify Jewell for Radical Inclusivity. This will not be an easy line to maintain. Should we really expect a qualitative change in the type of opportunities available at Jewell after the “cabinet develops a statement on affirmative hiring practice and communicates that statement to campus stakeholders?” 

Whoa to the almighty statement! Hopefully the stakeholders are impressed. 

It seems that this needs to be stated explicitly: regardless of one’s best intentions, regardless of the depth of critical insight one can pass on a subject in the abstract, talking about being inclusive is not the same as being inclusive. Jewell seems to have become nescient to this fact, or perhaps the fact has been repressed into the institutional unconscious. 

This would explain how individuals can claim they are practicing inclusivity during CTI 150 while evading cognition about the inconsistency between this abstract ideal of inclusivity and the concrete reality that, looking around one’s CTI 150 class, students see a usually similar group of identities who have occupied a broadly similar society throughout their lives. 

Given this, perhaps we can find a kernel of Radical Inclusivity in the final method under goal A2: “Dean of Students engage Student Work Group about the role of Multicultural Student Organizations and physical space on campus for Multicultural Student Organizations.” Here is an undeniable bit of real radical potential. 

Creating real, physical space is imperative for an institution dedicated to transforming its mode of inclusivity, but this was to be done in 2017. Two years later, nearly the same physical space seems to be occupied by nearly the same people. Jewell does not seem willing to create space, only to offer what is already its own. 

In other words, Jewell has not been invested in creating opportunities for the autonomous existence of Multicultural Student Organizations (MSOs), only in increasing the visibility of MSOs where Jewell has full authority over the space being occupied. The interest being met, then, is that of an institution that wants to feel good about itself rather than the interests of real students trying to find any sort of position, authority, status or belonging in a space which is not theirs. Talk at student work groups until your lips are stone, but talking about being inclusive is not the same as being inclusive.

There is not room here to trifle with concrete options about how Jewell could adjust itself moving forward to meet real Radical Inclusivity, but it will be urged that focus should be dedicated to at least one area. Throughout the D&I Plan, I cannot find a single mention of financial inclusivity. Given a perfect world, of course, money would not be a requisite means of participation in space. Given a capitalist world, though, talking about inclusivity without talking about financial inclusivity is almost meaningless. So long as this space is dominantly occupied by people of similar economic status, very little will change in campus environment, culture and the types of ideas had on campus. Perhaps those currently in control of this space are aware of the need to radicalize our financial inclusivity. We can hope. 

Imagine an alternative history in which, rather than arguing that the workers should cast off their chains, Marx instead argued that the government should loosen the workers’ chains. Given this history, Marx would certainly not be remembered as a radical. Still, this loosening rather than losing of chains is precisely what Jewell seems set to accomplish with Radical Inclusivity. Not a deconstruction of the historical whiteness, masculinity and wealth, of this space, just revising the means of participation in that same historically power-skewed space so that a more tolerant group is harnessing the inordinate power. 

The current formula for Radical Inclusivity at Jewell is not to create more inclusive space, it is instead to create more diverse means of accessing this space so that its foundationally exclusive character can remain the same. We would do well to dwell on a critical insight offered by Frantz Fanon. It is worth noting that I came across this quote during an assignment done for the “Philosophy of Race” seminar currently being offered at Jewell, the existence of which affirms that radical potential is present here. The insight is remarkably simple, yet unequivocally powerful: “Every criticism of that which is implies a solution.” 

Transforming Jewell to substantively fulfill its claims of Radical Inclusivity will not be a quick task. It will not be an easy seed to sow, but it will bear the boundless fruit of perpetual cohesion among a diverse lineage of students, faculty, administrators and ideas to come. William Jewell College: you have nothing to lose but the chains of isolation. You have a world to include. 

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