Reflections on the Inclusiveness and Diversity Workshop

2-day workshop on diversity and inclusion

Day 1
A small group of teachers working at the Hogeschool Rotterdam started a two-day journey into the world of participative drama, with a specific focus on diversity and inclusion activities. Our trainer is Luc Opdebeeck, an expert in the work of Augusto Boal[1] who in turn worked with and was inspired by the teachings of Paolo Frere[2].

By using the tools of participative drama we hoped to move away from a more cognitive approach to diversity issues and experience how inclusion and exclusion work upon our own bodies. Focusing in this way on a more corporeal and emotional experience that could then be used to create spaces for self reflection and critical thought.

The morning was spent with a series of trust exercises to build on safety in the group. Many of these exercises were also designed to enable participants to feel the difference between the body as a form of knowledge/ habitus of experience and the mind.

One of the first challenges the group had to face was how vulnerable some of the exercises made people feel, being asked to form two groups based on biological gender divisions was felt to be reproducing the very binary thinking we had come here to avoid. Group members were asked to voice their opinions, participants were given the freedom to withdraw their involvement at any moment, with the invitation to share these reservations.

The afternoon was spent using the body to express how participants feel and think about a range of concepts associated with diversity work such as inequality, oppression, power, identity, violence, racism, sexism, binary thinking, ableism, stereotyping etc. Difficulties arising from this were how to relate to stories of oppression coming from those with a majority/ minority background with those from a majority/white background experiencing feelings of guilt, or anger or shame. Other issues that the group had to deal with were the feeling of ‘spectacle’, watching others relive their traumas, for some this was very uncomfortable to see/feel. Interestingly those sharing were less uncomfortable.
The round up at the end of the day revealed a notion among participants, that while the day was seen as valuable, that we were only skimming the surface and needed to explore the notions of power and white privilege more thoroughly.

Day 2
We focused on three ‘becoming aware’ of stories from participant’s personal histories. The group was then asked to choose one to explore more fully. This proved to be a very valuable exercise by creating a greater understanding of the differing, simultaneously arising complex responses to discrimination felt by the discriminated in situ. The interactive and dynamic nature of this activity meant various competing responses could be thought through, tested and thought again, reflecting in the moment on the ramifications of the experience for all of us. This element of the program led to much discussion and emotional engagement.
The round up at the end of the workshop was positive in terms of group safety, participants commenting on how welcoming and accepting the group was even for those who had to miss the first session due to teaching responsibilities. How interesting all the activities had been. There was however a lingering feeling by some that the group was still a little too polite with each other, not daring to really share how they felt and reacted to power dynamics going on. Many agreed that perhaps an extra half a day would have been advisable in this regard.

Personal reflections
Starting with the notion that reflectivity involves the novel conception of ‘internal conversation’ (Archer 2003), involving the continuous self-confrontation of my whole self as perceived by myself. However, what I particularly appreciated about working with the tools of participative drama is the revelation of the reactions of my various selves in relation to the presentations of the other (significant or not) without the added the feeling that coherency must prevail. Leading me to feel at some point that all knowledge (however it is defined) is uncertain and also unpredictable, and arises from individual relationships which are in fluid communication; thoughts on what is it that I think I know for example what it does it mean to be inclusive, is it allowing everyone to speak while simultaneously revealing the the fissures in their stories without a concomitant feeling irritation or judgment on my part? Do I have a right to feel that I know somebodies story? Am I not always framing the other in terms of myself and my own reality. In some conversations I felt a certainty of perspective, knowing from reliving my own bodily experiences as a bridge to understanding. With other contributions I felt a gulf of incomprehension. In this way the grounding of this workshop in performativity is a valuable way of theorizing and practicing the multiple ways in which social reality comes into being. Moreover, this also enhanced my own understanding of the partial perspective, the relationship between identity location and the lens(es) with which we see the world and how valuable it can be to set them side by side. At times it was painful to feel unsure, to not understand the other and it was also painful to understand and to identify with dehumanizing situations, where someone else’s humanity was privileged over the others, rendering them less than.
A painful but rewarding experience.

The group have expressed a wish to meet up again and ‘be less polite’. So it will be interesting to see what direction this will take on the 6th of June.