DEIB & Ethics: Exploring the Synergies Between Ethics and DEIB Dialogue Practices in K-12 Schools

By Ariel Sykes, Assistant Director of the Ethics Institute

Special thanks to Walidah Justice, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Kent Place, for insights and expertise shared in dialogue that contributed to ideas developed in this article.

At the Ethics Institute (EI), we are committed to developing ethical dispositions and creating a community where the ethical dimensions of our lives are discussed productively so as to inform our personal and collective decision making. Our Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Office has similar goals, and is committed to creating an inclusive school community where cultural competencies are developed in order to ensure interactions are identity affirming.

SELF and OTHER AWARENESS is a shared aim

DIALOGUE is CENTRAL to both practices, as both operate from the assumption that knowledge is socially constructed. It is in dialogue with others that individuals develop as thinkers and change agents.

Both programs at Kent Place School (KPS) provide structured spaces for dialogue and can be seen having complementary aims. It is important for those engaging in these dialogues, as facilitators and participants, to see the ways in which they support shared goals and the ways in which they have distinct purposes.

EI discussions are generally deliberative: we talk together in order to learn more about an issue so we can decide what should be done. DEIB discussions are generally information seeking: to learn more about others’ lived experiences so we can understand different identities.

Inquiry: Ethical Dimensions vs Identity Dimensions

EI and DEIB discussions can both have an inquiry focus: to explore an issue in order to better understand it and become aware of what we might not know. However, the lens through which we seek understanding differs, as EI aims to support ethical disposition development and DEIB aims to support healthy identity development. In EI inquiries, we explore the ethical dimensions through stakeholder identification, values/principle generation, and application of different ethical theories. In DEIB inquiries, we identify dominant narratives, share lived experiences, and practice the application of intersectionality.

The thinking and talking moves that are centered in EI and DEIB dialogues differ in order to support the aims of each inquiry process. In ethical dialogues, critical thinking moves are emphasized by asking participants to consider different perspectives, engage in reasoning, evaluate ideas, and analyze evidence and examples. In diversity dialogues, listening and self-reflection is emphasized by asking participants to listen to understand, validate others, practice compassion, and engage in self-corrective thinking. Another important difference, in the consideration of different perspectives, which is part of both ethics and DEIB work, is how this is done in discussions. In ethics, participants are encouraged to imagine different points of view, and share ideas that can help move the discussion forward even if it is not anchored in a personalized belief. In DEIB, participants are required to always speak from the I perspective, and it is through having a diverse group that different points of view emerge from individual experience sharing.

The structure of EI and DEIB conversations and the role of the facilitator also differs.

EI dialogues emerge out of a shared stimulus: a case study, current event, or ethical dilemma faced by the community. Dialogue is centered around core ethical questions generated by the group or articulated by the case study. The facilitator helps participants make progress on the question(s), but never provides their personal point of view or directs the conversation towards a predetermined answer. At the end of an ethical discussion, time is held to support meta-cognitive skills and community cohesiveness. Participants reflect on their thinking about the topic, often through journaling. Participants also debrief as a group to ensure future dialogues are meaningful and inclusive, often by developing strategies to ensure participation, collaborative thinking, and safety in disagreeing. 

DEIB dialogues can emerge out of shared stimulus: a current event, community need, or reading. DEIB dialogues can also be centered on an agenda created by the facilitator who articulates a particular focus to help the group with their identity development progress. Dialogue is centered around a series of questions asked by the facilitator, though participant questions are also embraced. The facilitator directs participants to unpack the topic by asking for personal examples from participants. Facilitators will introduce new frameworks or concepts as well as model healthy mindsets for racial identity development. At the end of a diversity discussion, time is held to support individual and group self-reflection. Participants reflect on their changing understanding of key ideas, often through round-robins or journaling. Facilitators will also debrief the group around patterns of participation in order to set goals for the next session.

DEIB & Ethics Synergies: Complementary Skills

DEIB dialogues help participants practice seeing and naming the values and lived-experiences that shape our world view. Ethical dialogues help participants think through what we should do with this awareness of self and others that is central to DEIB work. In this way, ethical discussions provide a space for putting our thinking into action, through problem-solving immediate ethical dilemmas in our lives or building a framework for responding to future ethical issues we may face.

From this, we can see that DEIB helps build emotional intelligence that allows ethics to develop people’s meta-emotional intelligence. For example, DEIB helps identify triggers and trigger responses. Ethics can then use this self-awareness to evaluate when particular responses are reasonable (or not) and when they should (or shouldn’t) inform our decision-making process and actions. As complementary dialogue practices, each type of dialogue space helps participants work on self-regulation and interpersonal skills in real-time and around issues that are inherently meaningful and centered on how we live in the world.

DEIB can help facilitators of ethical dialogue respond to disagreement and discomfort from a lens of equity and inclusion. For example, if an idea is shared in an ethics discussion that makes people feel uncomfortable, DEIB practices can help the facilitator identify when this discomfort is racialized. When an idea that challenges the dominant narrative is shared, participants (or the facilitator) may be inclined to dismiss the view as irrelevant or only engage in a cursory exploration of the view. Ethics facilitators who are trained in DEIB are able to identify situations when dismissing an idea because it is not part of the majority group-think is a form of centering dominant narratives that marginalizes perspectives and causes harm both to the individual and to the group as a whole. Additionally, DEIB can help remind facilitators why it is important to uncover bias and test proposed solutions for unintended consequences. If someone is using discriminatory ideas to support an ethical action or if the action will have a discriminatory impact, then this position should not be considered ethically valid. In these ways, DEIB supports ethics facilitators work of including different viewpoints via a commitment to justice.

DEIB & Ethics: Embracing Disagreement & Nuance

DEIB and Ethics are both spaces that embrace disagreement and nuance. However, each dialogue space has different strategies for navigating difference and complexity. DEIB encourages people to realize that a person’s individual story, while true, is not the only truth that exists and therefore is not the only way of experiencing the world. Stories are shared to illustrate complexity and disagreements are only resolvable if they are about historical facts. In order to arrive at a better understanding of the topic, disagreement is unpacked so as to differentiate between narratives and historical realities. Ethics encourages people to explore various ideas using critical thinking skills, with the goal of arriving at a tentative position or initial plan of action that is supported by an awareness of different possibilities and anchored in a selected set of values and ethical principles. Disagreement is seen as a method of ensuring “good thinking” that allows for the evaluation of ideas using reasoning and facts, so that a person’s final position is well-informed. In both types of dialogue spaces, there is an expectation that we be mindful of the impact of our words and not just the intentions behind our contributions.

DEIB & Ethics: Building Community

Dialogues, in both contexts, can contribute to a sense of safety and belonging. Communities that take time to listen to the ideas, experiences, and values of others with a shared commitment to understanding, will form strong bonds. DEIB and Ethics lean into issues that are messy and that have a lot at stake. This is what makes such spaces transformative for individuals and groups: issues that matter are addressed and not avoided so that collective understandings can inform individual actions and community practices. For these reasons, we encourage all communities to embrace both practices, and not just one over the other.