18th July 2021

Is your education content using inclusive language effectively?

Sophie Cole

Unsurprisingly, education content is often the pinnacle of inclusivity. For students to feel safe and able to learn to the best of their abilities, it’s vital all feel seen and welcome for who they are. Universities, for example, are seen as accepting places to freely explore your sense of self, perhaps for the first time in your life. Even if that means inflicting rainbow-hued torture on your hair or debuting questionable outfit choices.

But true inclusivity is about more than just using the ‘right’ words (which you’re likely already doing) or embodying ‘wokeness’. It should drive you to reflect the diverse voices that make up your institution’s communities within your communications.

As education content and written communications specialists, we often think about the most effective way to bring the principle to life. Making sure you actively address pressing concerns, facilitate two-way communication and foster a genuine, diverse sense of community and belonging is a crucial place to start.

Why creating a community matters

We’ve already discussed how a decidedly challenging year-and-a-bit has impacted the present and future of the education sector. Yet exclusionary language may have exacerbated the sense that students and institutions are firmly in opposite camps rather than working together. Some students have been left feeling that their education providers don’t really care about them. Now, building back a strong sense of community using inclusive language and great education content should be a key strategy for education providers.

The pandemic has shown us how the same circumstances can disproportionately affect some socio-economic, racial and geographical groups. And, potentially, this means there is a window of opportunity for institutions to actively adjust the way they communicate to be even more inclusive. It’s not always an easy task, though, and something that frequently requires an expert touch to get right.

How language helps to create connections

Inclusivity in education content is not about getting ‘down with the kids’ (shudder). In fact, pasting the contents of the urban dictionary into your communications will ruin your chances of ever making meaningful connections. All you’ll do is come across as cringey.

Trying too hard to be ‘relatable’ and inclusive by posting Love Island memes can also backfire. If you’re doing so in place of addressing the worrying topic of what changing restrictions mean for seminars and lectures, you’ll feel tone-deaf and an enemy instead of an ally. Get straight to the heart of the important matters instead of sweeping the uncomfortable topics under the carpet.

Effective, inclusive education content doesn’t need to be so try-hard. Rather than trying to impress the youth, it’s important to understand what matters to them and show you get it. Principles like in-group bias – the human tendency to favour voices we feel we can connect to – can be used to your advantage here.

Highlighting student voices to broach key topics and show you understand what your audience cares about will bring them on side. For example, if you want to talk about mental health, you could share real-life stories from within the student body that people can relate to. And if you’re trying to amplify experiences from different racial or religious communities, do so by giving them a voice directly, rather than just speaking around the topic.

A base-level expectation

Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to accidentally alienate people when you’re genuinely trying to do the right thing. The debate around the term BAME is an excellent example. First coined in the ’70s as part of the UK’s anti-racism movement, it has come increasingly under fire for being a reductive catch-all used in place of language that could call out specific communities.

No institution actively sets out to exclude people (we’d hope). In most cases, the failure to be fully inclusive is simply due to oversight rather than malicious intent. But these slip-ups can have profound consequences, especially at times when effective communications really matter.

For example, campaigner Katherine Rowley, who is deaf, is taking legal action against the government after noticing there were no BSL interpreters present at two Covid-19 briefings. She says not being able to access crucial public health information left her feeling stressed and frustrated, especially as she was in the early stages of pregnancy at the time.

Now, more than ever, inclusive language is a bare minimum expectation that all institutions and businesses need to meet. And if you do slip up, it’s vital that you listen, learn and genuinely commit to doing better in the future. Make sure you’re always open to communicating with your audience and are ready to promptly act if it’s clear you’ve made an error, no matter how well-intentioned it was.

Using words to unite

At its heart, inclusive language can make all the difference to those at risk of marginalisation. Making sure your language prioritises representation, thoughtfulness, and accessibility is just one way to show you’re committed to inclusivity, rather than making empty statements.

We know it’s still a very unusual time for education providers as you gear up for another uncertain academic year. If you’re busy with the strategic stuff, why not let us take on some of the comms heavy lifting? We’re adept at creating a laser-focused content strategy and communications with inclusivity at their core. Get in touch and see how we can help you win with words.