The word 'diversity' is no stranger to me as I belong to one of the countries that have many controversial issues about political, social, gender, and class differences. I also belong to an ethnic group (Chin) composed of 53 sub-ethnic groups and speak many related but different languages.
According to my way of thinking, diversity simply means the art of living with diverse people together in one place and feeling a sense of inclusion, regardless of their differences in race, ethnicity, social class, language, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability. However, I also acknowledge that living tranquility without issues is impossible for people whose beliefs and identities are entirely different. Therefore, education, whether it is formal or informal, should come between these people who live in several disparate worlds. The reason is that education, in my view, is not just schooling. It is more than that.
We can access education through our surroundings informally. We learn things and get beliefs by looking at the people who surround us. What I mean by that is everything is interrelated. Therefore, if we can offer curriculum and disciplines that are inclusive and quality education to the people who are dependent on schools only, it will bring and spread positive impacts on the people who live near them. In this essay, I will share the experiences I have come through during my school year and at work.
Growing up, I had to move from one school to another to find greener pastures. We needed to live from hand to mouth as my father is a junior civil servant in a government department. So, I always found it challenging to make new friends. Of the schools I enrolled in, one school admitted Burmese students primarily, so whenever they had morning prayer service, some of my friends and I were forced to do the same. It may seem a minor issue that could be ignored. However, I felt guilty and felt a sense of betrayal whenever I finished the services as I was raised as a Christian and was conservative back then. I would name this incident an organizational issue. That morning service was just a tiny thing, but we, students who are not Buddhists, felt that we did not belong there. In the long run, it harmed our academic records as it made us have low self-esteem. Plus, there was some discrimination against students who were not Buddhists. From those days onwards, I misunderstood Buddhists and made assumptions about them as if all Buddhists were biased.
When I look back and analyze the incident, I think the principal and the staff working there were responsible for all the unpleasant experiences that we came through. The team was also the ones who discriminated against us instead of addressing that kind of issue wisely. If I were a principal at the school, I would allow my minority students to have some space for devotion services and practice their religions without constraint. It is that simple. In addition, I would make the school exercise a zero-tolerance policy on some issues such as bullying in connection with race, religion, and sexual preferences.
Another anecdote I would like to share is the most atypical thing I have witnessed. One of my friends was told not to take the position she was offered for the reason of her being female and marital status by some elderly women (which reminds me of my mom's words, it goes like, "sometimes, those who drag women down are other women themselves."). Believe it or not, the by-law prohibited her from serving in that position because it is a religion-related workspace. However, there is no such rule for male faculty in the rule book.
For background information, gender inequality is a big issue in Chin culture since it is still a patriarchal society. Therefore, this case can be seen as a systematic and organizational issue because it has much to do with cultural stereotyping. In this case, the main stakeholders are those who made the rule books and the staff who failed to check them when times changed. This kind of gender discrimination can lessen female staff's abilities and enthusiasm for their jobs. After considering it, all of the staff members working there agreed to change the rule. They looked carefully at every wording that could mislead the whole organization. As time goes by, everything changes quickly. So, if I were in a position to give suggestions on that kind of issue, I would encourage the people in charge to look back at the rule book from time to time.
As we have already discussed in our class, we cannot build a perfect environment where everybody is satisfied. However, the onus is upon the educators and people who have the knowledge and are being taught about these issues to share and be vocal about them whenever we witness them in our surroundings.
I want to conclude my essay by sharing one of my role models; my teacher once said that 'building a drug-free zone is essential, but building a bully-free zone seems more important at schools.' It seems to me that it is entirely true when I look back on my experiences and the trauma they gave me.
Note: This essay is written by Ca Hlei lang, a Parami modular student from the 2022 fall semester who is also a Parami Leadership Program (PLP) alumnus. She wrote this essay as a part of her assignment for Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice Class by a visiting faculty, Ye Pyae Thu, a candidate for Ed. D.