I’ve been thinking about inclusivity — what it is, how to achieve it and what it means to community.
As a young girl growing up, our large, circular kitchen table felt inclusive. There were eight of us kids and my parents. Suppertime was busy and noisy and involved jockeying for a spot but, as many as we were, there was always room at the table for an extra seat or two. I grew up in a small town and people often dropped in for a coffee, meal or game of crib. Food and conversation were shared with whoever knocked on our door, and the kitchen table was the gathering place welcoming all. For me, that table was a symbol of inclusivity.
As an adult, I expect more from my symbols. Of course, our kitchen table was a welcoming space and I’d like to think those who joined us felt included. But with time and experience, I know inclusivity requires much more than merely having a seat at the table. Inclusivity means all have voices and all voices are heard. It involves listening, understanding and creating a mutual sense of equality. It requires recognizing, accepting and celebrating the differences that make us the individuals we are.
As alumni, we share the value of education. I’m increasingly convinced education is needed, now more than ever, to build the kinds of inclusive communities we should demand — communities where every one of us has a chance to succeed.
We must educate ourselves about those who share our communities. By listening to what others have to say, learning about their history and acknowledging their experiences, we gain the insights needed to understand what it means to be University of Alberta alumni and to contribute, as our founders envisioned, to uplifting the whole people.
The opportunity is now. Don’t wait. Educate yourself and then look around your many tables and ask yourself if there are voices you might invite into your circles — whether they are corporate, non-profit, volunteer or public service.
My family is big; our alumni family is bigger. The “kitchen table” that alumni share needs to continue to expand to include the diverse cultures, talents, perspectives, voices and possibilities of wave after wave of students who, in graduating, join us as engaged and contributing citizens.
It has been my honour to serve as president. I am humbled by the great things U of A alumni achieve each and every day and will forever be grateful to have had this opportunity.
With great thanks and best wishes,
Mary Pat Barry, ’04 MA,
President, Alumni Association