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A handy dandy guide to inclusion

Mia Lillis | Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Recently, some Viewpoint columns have caused many Domers to go on the defensive about their everyday speech and behavior. If you have been on the fence about your own speech and behavior, and wish to become as inclusive and compassionate as possible, I humbly offer the following pointers to consider.
When speaking …
Do: Be mindful of your language.
Don’t: Use derogatory terms.
Language is often the easiest habit we can change to become inclusive – but when left unexamined, it is also the most prominent way to appear exclusive. Going into my freshman year here, I frequently used the phrase, “that’s retarded.” I was dimly aware the phrase was not politically correct due to association with people with disabilities, but I had chosen to disregard this warning flag in favor of continued use of a term that was popular among my peers and that had already imbedded itself in my vocabulary.
As luck would have it, I was placed with a roommate who helped to organize the Special Olympics. Needless to say, my roommate did not appreciate use of the word “retarded,” and she was outspoken about this. Such a phrase equated the individuals she worked with and deeply cared for with negative associations.
Warning flags had resided in my mind for a year, but it was not until I was confronted by my roommate’s discomfort that I felt prompted to remove the word from my vocabulary. It was a challenging transition at first, as the word would slip out mindlessly, but every time I let it slip I immediately noticed and felt guilty. Such awareness caused the word gradually to disappear from my vocabulary. I certainly still feel bad for having used such a derogatory term for so long, but at this point, I no longer use the phrase, and I figure, better late than never.
When someone calls you out for what they perceive as exclusive behavior …
Do: Be receptive.
Don’t: Get defensive.
When people call us out on our behaviors, we have the power to choose how we perceive such calling out. On the positive side, it is a chance to learn and an opportunity to become more aware of the broader social implications and consequences of our speech and actions. On the negative side, considering such comments a personal attack can lead to defensiveness and non-constructive discourse.
Recently, I was called out on something I said that had made people feel excluded. I had commented that an event appeared to be heteronormative, and while I had said this in an attempt to promote inclusion, my approach had made friends feel guilty for wanting to attend the event.
When this was brought to my attention, my first instinct was to get defensive – my intentions had been good, so why was it my fault the message was misunderstood? It was only after pushing past feelings of pride and arrogance that I was able to recognize my approach had hurt people and this would be something to remember for the future. Following this, I felt guilty for my initial defensiveness, but I chose to use this as a learning moment, to help shape interactions in the future, as I strive for better sensitivity and inclusion.
When you realize you’ve messed up …
Don’t: Become overwhelmed with guilt.
Do: Channel your guilt positively.
In both of the above examples, I mentioned the ensuing guilt I felt upon realizing my actions were not compassionate and exclusive. Guilt is a tricky emotion, for while guilt is warranted when we mess up, there are several ways guilt can be channeled, and not all of them are positive. When I was getting little sleep at the beginning of last year, my irrationality got the better of me and I got into a fight with one of my close friends, in which we both exchanged vicious words.
Eventually, I realized I had messed up, but I let the guilt consume me and avoided seeing my friend for quite a while because I could not forgive myself. Eventually, we grew apart, and now we are merely acquaintances. If I had managed the guilt more constructively, we would likely still be friends today. Instead, because I allowed the guilt to consume me, I lost a friend. I have since learned the importance of properly handling guilt – allowing guilt to consume you and trap you in a loop is constructive for absolutely no one. Acknowledging the guilt, apologizing for misdeeds and perhaps paying it forward and calling someone else out when they use derogatory language, are much more constructive and healthy responses.
None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. Hopefully, these pointers will improve our ability to process these mistakes and help us to strive for the deepest inclusion possible. Best of luck in your quest!

Mia Lillis is a senior living in Cavanaugh Hall. She can be reached at mlillis@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.