On Tuesday, April 16, the sorority Sigma Sigma Sigma (Tri Sigma) held its “Inclusion Happens Here” discussion panel on advocating for inclusion in everyday life. The panel included Andre Lessears from the Akron Cleveland Clinic, Eileen Anderson-Fye a psychology professor at Case Western Reserve University, Heather Steranka-Petit from YWCA, Lauren Litton from Revive Civility, Ami Rizek from Hyland software and Rekha Srinivasan a chemistry professor at CWRU. The event was made possible by the Residence Hall Association, Center for Civic Engagement and Learning and Greek Life.
The goal of the panel discussion was to spark conversation about inclusion and acting with respect and understanding in daily life. Members of the audience were able to ask the panelists questions or respond to the points made throughout the event.
Lessears, spoke about the importance of character and depth in inclusion-based topics before the discussion began. He also mentioned the significant positive effects that increased inclusion can have on the economic state of communities. Lessears said that “no one is born able to navigate difference,” and emphasized that we must learn to feel comfortable with those different from us, especially considering we are predisposed to be comfortable with those similar to us.
Lessears began the panel by responding to a question about identity. He said that people risk “going on autopilot” and not seeing other people as unique individuals. He stressed that people don’t all have to agree, they just need to be respectful and understanding of differences.
“People are put into a capsule and not allowed to go outside that,” said Srinivasan, emphasizing the idea that people are not their stereotypes.
“It’s not a choice,” said Srinivasan when asked about when the right time to speak up about inclusion was. “You have to speak up every time.”
Adding to Srinivasan’s point, Steranka-Petit said that even if you are in a place of privilege, you should speak up. It can be harder with family members or close friends, but it should still be done.
Anderson-Fye who volunteered in Central America focusing on sexual assault prevention continued to say that certain situations warrant an immediate response.
Srinivasan asserted that situations will determine the response, but it is important not to let habits stop you from speaking up, whether it is about cultural injustices or other issues.
Litton greatly emphasized the importance of forming relationships and human connections, as she believes the way to make people receptive to tolerance and empathy is not to attack them, but to communicate in a healthy way.
Rizek said people should speak up against injustice by focusing on shared things and speaking about feelings rather than making personal attacks or assumptions. Rizek, who created a safe space at Ryland where employees could talk about race-based injustices, emphasized the use of “I” statements and the disuse of loaded terminology. People should talk about specific details, not generalized statements which will cause others to shut down.
According to Lessears the keys to speaking out are to be curious and respectful. He told attendees they should try to ask questions and learn more about others and their difference; he clarified that there is a difference between friendliness and inclusion.
Steranka-Petit made the final point that those with privilege should not feel bad, but should instead use that privilege to help others.