If one grew up in the global South, the concept of ubuntu
would feel familiar, even if the term is not. Loosely translated to mean “I am because you are,” ubuntu
is an African philosophy about the interconnectedness of the human experience. Adherents contend that not only are we bound to one another because of our inherent humanity, but we are also fastened to a collective future that trumpets, “I cannot be all that I am called to be if you do not become all that you are called to become.”
Complementary ideas from the East may describe this sense of wholeness with the Chinese characters yin-yang
. Depicted as a circle of proportionate differences, the original message is that the fullness of the human experience relies on life’s variety in balance, not opposition. It is not either-or
, rather both-and
In the West, the moorings of ubuntu
can be recognized where the visions of rugged individualism are tempered by the imaginings of beloved community. Historically, these hopes for pervasive, mutually beneficial, and mutually reenforcing relationships have primarily emerged from social, spiritual, emotional, and even psychological sources. Today, we can also add economic and other instrumental reasons for fostering meaningful connections with others. Simply stated, it is becoming standard practice and good business to honor diversity and seek inclusion.
Amidst its devastating impact, the global health pandemic sired by COVID-19 has brought to the fore how globally interwoven we are beyond the scope of the Internet and information technology. As educators in a school committed to nurturing young people as citizens and leaders, we do well to create the conditions in which our students are responsibly, appreciably, and appreciatively exposed to the world, its people, and their lives. This commitment is the core of inclusion practice at Greenhill School.
Greenhill strives to embody the spirit of the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) Principles of Good Practice for Equity and Justice
. Succinctly, these principles seek to respect, affirm, and protect the dignity and worth of each community member. Alongside NAIS, Greenhill expects its members to create and sustain a community that is safe and welcoming for all of us. In this way, diversity, equity, and inclusion practice involves, impacts, and relies on each member of our community.
In The Art of Community
, author Charles H. Vogl describes community as a gathering of those who are concerned with one another’s well-being. He takes care to articulate that common ideas, shared experiences, or even the same values are not
enough to constitute an authentic community. Invariably, community requires a commitment to the welfare of others. In her text Belonging: A Culture of Place
, public intellectual bell hooks reminds us that proximity alone does not equate to community. Rather, we are only able to find our place together when, in the collective space, there is no feeling of being othered
To arrive at community, hooks and Vogl may contend that the requisite genuine concern for the welfare of others begins with a willingness to learn another person’s story, followed closely by recognizing this learning as an asset. While the complexity of our individual identities signals that real relationship based on care of the other person may be complicated, belonging – that place where others are not othered – requires that we rise to meet the challenge together. As mentioned in the introduction, inclusion can be understood as efforts at creating a sense of belonging amongst community members. Therefore, a focus on inclusion at Greenhill School points us toward a type of plural commons
– an environment where each person’s whole Self1
is welcomed, cared for, and seen as essential to the common good.
Greenhill School’s journey toward plural commons
relies on familiarity with the identity stories in our midst that can be derived from building relationships and amassing institutional data. The floor of plural commons is concern for one’s own sense of belonging, while the potential of plural commons is the ability to prioritize another’s. When the architecture of community is story, there can be measurable positive impact with individuals, on interpersonal relationships, and across institutional systems. This multi-pronged approach reflects the promise of plural commons
1 Here, the concept of the “whole Self” rests on the term “intersectionality” introduced by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to illuminate how the confluence of multiple identity markers (e.g., gender, class, race, worldview) interact to create a unique lived experience.