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Slack: Creating Proactive Communities: Why is diversity important in schools?

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The increase in global diversity due to globalization and immigration has changed the way in which we view the world. There are now 272 million immigrants around the world, all of whom impact economies, cultures, policy decisions and daily interactions. Furthermore, our connections to one another through the internet expose us to even more diversity on a day-to-day basis. Through all of this, we now come into contact not just with people of different races or ethnicities but also with different genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic standing, religious beliefs or political convictions, and even ages on a regular basis. And though this does not go smoothly at all times, it is by and large making society more cognizant of the importance of inclusivity.

In accordance with these societal shifts, efforts are underway around the world to close diversity gaps for young people in schools and communities. Perhaps most importantly, this is being done by way of an expanded focus first on developing professionals trained in matters of diversity and inclusion and then on making those professionals more widely available to schools and students.

For example, social work degrees offered online now focus heavily on diversity, as well as generalist social work practice and social justice. These courses aim to mitigate the shortage of qualified social work professionals in the U.S. and ensure that those pursuing work in this expanding field — projected to grow by 16% between 2016 and 2026 — are adequately equipped with equality, diversity and inclusion training. Meanwhile, we’re also seeing the emergence of leadership and social equality programs run by nonprofit organizations and designed to connect marginalized children with community leaders. This enables the nonprofits (and sometimes some of those trained social workers just mentioned) to lend their unique perspectives to the practice of identifying and solving local problems relating to diversity.

While it’s a good thing that we are actively trying to address diversity issues in schools and communities, though, it’s also necessary to understand why this movement is necessary in the first place. To that point, we’re going to look at three reasons why diversity should be integrated into our school systems.

Diversity fosters empathy in people

Teaching diversity in class can counter discriminatory stereotypes that students may learn elsewhere. Simply put, promoting awareness and creating personal connections with people from all different backgrounds gives students a chance to empathize with and relate to people who may not be like themselves in one way or another. Similarly, diverse learning materials, interviews and other teaching methodologies help students understand others’ experiences and become more respectful of them. This, in turn, can make students more willing to listen to other viewpoints — rather than scorning, mocking or fearing what is unfamiliar (as all too many children learn to do, particularly when living or attending school in less diverse environments).

Teachers have observed that diverse classes offer more well-rounded discussions in some schools. The opportunity to share diverse insights and perspectives benefits students, who gain the chance to explore new ideas.

Diversity inspires creativity and new perspectives

Social scientists have found that exposure to different people and developing deeper relationships with them can boost creativity. In one study, for instance, it was discovered that students who dated someone from another country during the term scored higher on routine creativity tests.

Research tells us that truly learning and reflecting on another culture can be transformative, exposing students to diverse thoughts, backgrounds and experiences. People who have this experience are prompted to change how they approach issues, leading to more critical thinking, problem-solving and innovation. And this speaks to the findings regarding creativity; after all, the essence of creativity is to bring together a variety of ideas or perspectives and transform them into something new.

This process can be richly rewarding when it comes about due to diversity and shared perspectives among classmates of different backgrounds.

Diversity prepares students for the world

It may not be easy to quantify or calculate the value of diversity in total. From a standpoint of economic growth, however, it’s worth noting that the cultural and creative sector accounts for 3.1% of global GDP and 6.2% of all employment. Moreover, three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension. We can thus conclude that bridging cultural gaps can promote peace, drive development and ensure more stability.

In short, diversity is — on a societal level — an asset for poverty reduction, sustainable development and peace. And we can better foster that diversity by teaching students accordingly. Young people who learn about diversity often feel safer and more comfortable with cultural differences later in life. This helps them to interact positively with a wider range of social groups –– not to mention it better equips them to work in a globalized workforce. Students who study diverse perspectives are also more likely to engage and improve with their local communities, growing up as civic-minded adults who aim to make good decisions within their political landscape.

There’s really no end to the reasons for which diversity is important in schools. But the core takeaway is clear: Our diversifying world is necessitating a greater focus on diversity training and understanding. And acting on this necessity by improving diversity exposure and education in schools will prepare students to succeed socially, creatively and personally in the world they will go on to shape.

Derrin Slack is a speaker, training facilitator, consultant, founder and CEO of ProAct Indy and contributor for the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact him at derrin@proactindy.org.

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