College campuses are filled with young adolescents discovering their interests and their identities. Northern Arizona University (NAU) is no exception: the 23,000+ student body population is full of diverse students with varying identities and backgrounds. A 2017-18 Forbes magazine article reports that 59% of NAU students are white, 22% are Hispanic/Latino, 3% are American Indian, and 3% are African American. The article also states that the student body is approximately 40% male and 60% female. Furthermore, though they do not provide specific statistics about student demographics, NAU websites highlight various clubs, services, and events that are all about diversity, such as the LGBTQIA Commission, Disability Services, and the Office of Inclusion. NAU’s Housing and Residence Life, a wide-reaching organization with which most students who attend the Flagstaff campus come into contact, works hard to facilitate appropriate, meaningful conversations about and spaces for these identities and backgrounds. Recently, their Commitment to Inclusive Communities, previously called the Diversity Statement, underwent construction, and all members of Housing and Residence Life (HRL) staff have been invited to grab a hardhat. Their project’s goal is to ensure that the official commitment to inclusive communities does, in fact, contain inclusive language.
The HRL Diversity Committee members involved in these revisions are Jimmy Luckman, Victoria Pietsch, Tommy Newsom III, Megan Stanley, Jessica Velazquez, Jamie Lloyd, Jacob Matthews, and Jon Merchant. This committee takes matters of inclusion very seriously and is open to making changes for the better. This spring, for example, it was brought to the attention of the committee that some of the language used in the Commitment to Inclusive Communities is “ablest [sic] and may not resonate with all identities.” To address these concerns about the statement, the Diversity Committee encouraged all HRL staff, including student staff, to provide any related feedback to the suggested revisions.
The current Commitment of Inclusive Communities that is under construction reads as follows:
Fostering inclusive communities where individuals are valued, safe, and heard is essential to the success of our students, staff and faculty. We are committed to understanding both individual and shared human experiences and advocating for the respect and inclusion of all identities.
The suggested revision to the Commitment to Inclusive Communities reads as follows:
Fostering inclusive communities where individuals feel safe, valued, and understood is essential to the success of our students, staff and faculty. We are committed to learning about individual and shared human experiences and advocating for the respect and inclusion of all identities.
Each of the highlighted changes were explained by the Diversity Committee through email. First, the change from “are” to “feel” is suggested because “‘are’ implies that there is one singular way to define the words ‘safe,’ ‘valued,’ and ‘understood’ versus ‘feel’ which allows for multiple perspectives that [can be] unique to each person who may read/live the Commitment.” Second, the change from “heard” to “understood” is made because “the original intention of the word ‘heard’ was to acknowledge lived realities and . . . the word ‘understood’ goes beyond simply listening or taking in other perspectives” and can also “lead to action.” Finally, the change from “understanding” to “learning about” comes about because “having the word understood used twice in the statement is redundant and learning is a process that is ongoing and aligns with NAU being an institution of higher learning.” The committee also commented that this third change “better connects to our [HRL] departmental value of student learning.”
The goal of the Diversity Committee is to live up to not only their title but also to the Commitment to Inclusive Communities and continually strive toward fostering safe, valued, and understood communities across campus. NAU HRL has continued to work toward this goal with their recent release about Mixed-Gender Housing, in which students of “any sex, gender, gender identity or gender expression” are allowed to “live together in a more integrated living unit” in the 2019-2020 term. In emails and other advertisements sent out to prospective and current NAU students, HRL suggests that Mixed-Gender housing may be a suitable choice for “siblings, cousins, friends, or allies of varying genders or gender identities.” This change came about because of HRL’s desire to foster inclusive communities in new ways so that the needs of all students are recognized. Materials with this information also included a reminder about Gender-Inclusive Housing, which was established in 2012 to “help transgender, gender-variant, and questioning students experience a greater sense of safety and belonging while living on campus.” This arrangement, similar to Mixed-Gender Housing, allows students to room with any person regardless of sex, gender, and gender identity/expression but has been extended now to include any sexual orientation as well.
Modifying the language in the Commitment to Inclusive Communities is one small but meaningful action taken by NAU HRL to make the Flagstaff campus as welcoming as possible. Paying attention to such details enables students to feel at home and consequently to excel in their studies. Bigger changes, like the Mixed-Gender Housing, similarly strive to increase acceptance and security in residences for the greater good of the students. HRL continually makes positive changes to their statements and practices, and these efforts can be expected to continue in both the near and distant future.