Solving Wicked Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Problems From a Design Thinking Lens

Solving Wicked Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Problems From a Design Thinking Lens

Levester Johnson, Yselande Pierre
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7768-4.ch004
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The central question that undergirds this chapter is, “How can practitioners see learning from the student's perspective?” The authors address this question to the extent to which diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and experiential learning assessment constitute what design thinkers refer to as a wicked problem – a complex problem that benefits from a multiplicity of perspectives. It will take more than just DEI professionals to unravel these complex and interconnected issues. They look at how institutions currently seek to quantify and qualify their students' learning and experiences – proposing how design thinking, particularly the central quality of “empathy” could enhance these efforts.
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When one thinks of experiential learning, it likely conjures images of service projects, student organization participation, or leadership development programs. Others may consider learning experiences connected to academic learning like sponsored undergraduate research, internships or other practical experiences, or participation in a musical ensemble or theatrical production. Perhaps one might think about employment during college and how it can contribute to student learning and development in postsecondary education.

However, like many things, experiential learning looks different through a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lens. While these three terms are interchangeable or as if they are one thing, each has a distinct meaning.

Diversity, according to Longmire-Avital (2021), “…reflects the representation of individual differences and the constellations of those varied intersecting differences” (p. para 5). Diversity can reflect a wide range of initiatives, from “a narrow focus on the representation of ethnic and racial minorities, to the fostering of a supportive campus climate for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities, to the infusion of diverse content into the academic curricula and better preparation of all students for the realities of a diverse democracy (Williams & Clowney, 2007, p. 2). In short, diversity refers to differences, including how we celebrate and navigate that difference.

The term equity is rooted in the concepts of justice. Though equity may sound similar to equality, the differences between these terms highlight an important distinction. Equality is everyone receiving the same treatment; equity is concerned with receiving what they individually need or deserve. Applying this term to higher education's central mission, the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California (2021) defined equity as “…achieving parity in student educational outcomes, regardless of race and ethnicity” (para. 1). Equity is often central to student learning and success. Brown and Fleming (2020) consider equity to be “…the outcome of educator practices that respect and nurture all aspects of student identity rather than treat them as barriers to learning” (para. 2). From an equity-minded standpoint, educators must focus on removing systematic barriers, ensuring that each person can benefit from all that college has to offer.

Inclusion is the cornerstone of DEI work because one can neither celebrate diversity or experience equity without it. For many years, student affairs literature has touted the importance of “involvement” (Austin, 1984) and “engagement” (Kuh et al., 2005) in promoting student learning and success. An essential but historically underappreciated precursor is “inclusion.” How can one be involved or engaged unless they are first included? Bolder (2018) suggests that inclusion “…is about folks with different identities feeling and being valued, leveraged, and welcomed within a given setting” (para. 15). Thus, inclusion is necessary to ensure that all people have access to the same opportunities, receive the same level of respect, treatment, and value—regardless of innate or perceived differences (Harris, 2019). Inclusion is subjective (Tobbell et al., 2021) and is shaped by students' experience at an institution, which may send perceivable signals of inclusion or exclusion.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sympathy: The act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another.

Social action: Activity on the part of an interested group directed toward some particular institutional change.

DEI: Acronym for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Justice: The quality of being just, impartial, or fair.

Experiences: Something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through.

Engagement: the act of involvement or commitment.

Empathy: The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

Involvement: The amount of energy one devotes to a particular discipline, action, program, event, or experience.

Students: One who attends or studies at an educational institution.

Global Learning: The process of diverse people, collaboratively analyzing and addressing complex problems that transcend borders.

Experiential Learning: A learning process that encourages reflection and action through experience.

Environment: The circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded.

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