glass candle holder with a lit candle inside

Depth and Breadth of Awareness

glass candle holder with a lit candle inside

“When diversity means everything, diversity means nothing. Because your goal is not about a genuine desire to appreciate or understand any particular group of people. Your desire is to say you have it. Your desire is numbers.

You can definitely have diversity and not have inclusion. In fact, you can have diversity and actually be practicing exclusion. Just because you invite someone into a room, doesn’t mean their voice is being heard, or considered or taken seriously.”

–Dr. Donnetrice Allison in “Diversity and Exclusion

Diversity is simply the presence of difference. Sometimes institutions can achieve some semblance of the presence of difference in an environment and use that observation as a reason to celebrate their arrival at some crucial point in their development. Yet, having the presence of difference in the room alone doesn’t say a whole lot about the relationships between folks in that room, how they feel about the room itself, and how they feel about each other.

Demographics vs. Dynamics

Put another way, one of the things we talked about during my participation in the Social Justice Training Institute was the idea that when thinking in terms of climate and equity, one of the ways institutions can perpetuate systems of oppression is by focusing on demographics but not the dynamics that are taking place within those demographics.

Although conversations about the reality of the shifting demographics as a case for equity can be a common talking point in social justice work is important to acknowledge that institutions as originally designed were set up to exclude those in the “shifting demographics”. What is often lost is the naming of the dynamics that are taking place, and the marginalizing experience those dynamics reproduce. We need to study and recognize those dynamics.

Breadth and Depth of Awareness

One exercise that we can do to undergo keep the focus on naming and changing the dynamics is assessing our breadth and depth of awareness of how we are situated individually, our group memberships, and within systems. The trainers at the institute credited Dr. Kate Kirkham for the following exercise.

Here are a few notes as I remembered them.

Depth and Breadth of Awareness Activity: Aimed at assessing how aware we are of our social location as individuals, our group memberships, and the systems we interact with and are implicated by. Communication is done in pairs. Below are areas of focus: 

Individual assessment:  Share your answers to this question with your partner: “Tell me about yourself”. (describe yourself as an individual). Time: 45 seconds/person

Assessment of Group Memberships: The person whose turn it is to listen will repeatedly ask their partner, “Who are you?”

The person whose turn it is to share will respond each time with a group that they are a member of. The goal is to name as many group memberships as you can within the time limit.

Ex. “Who Are you?”

I am cisgender.

“Who Are You?”

I am Black.

“Who Are You?”

I am Temporarily Able Bodied.

“Who Are You?”

I am middle class…

and so on until the time runs out.

Time: 25 seconds/person

Systems Awareness: The goal here is to assess your awareness of systems you are targeted by, and benefit from/are implicated in. This is an opportunity to assess your awareness of how systems can be used to support or hinder efforts for equity.  For this part of the exercise, list as many systems you are aware of as possible. Think of your group memberships as a guide.

Ex. Cissexism, White Supremacy, Classism..and so on until the time runs out.
Time: 25 seconds/person

What I added to the exercise with groups that I have worked with was to ask them to answer this prompt:

Based on my depth and breadth of awareness of myself as an individual, my group memberships, and my location within systems, when I think of working for equity, something I am challenged by is…. something I am hopeful about is…..
Time: 2 minutes/person.

That last part can be modified to fit whatever group you might be working with i.e. neighborhood associations, community groups, teachers, administrators, and more.

There are many take aways from this I think, but the one we talked about at the institute is our tendency to get defensive and respond from an individualized place when people or groups bring systems level issues to our awareness. Responding as an individual can keep us from owning the reality of our group membership and implication in systems issues.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones

Subscribe to Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian

Enter your email and click subscribe to receive new notes when I share them.

Written by

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

You may also like...

Share Your Thoughts: Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: