Diversity and Inclusion
The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and bring diverse perspectives and solutions to development issues in the countries we serve. For the Peace Corps, diversity is a collection of individual attributes that together help the agency pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. Diversity also encompasses where people are from, where they have lived, and their differences of thought and life experiences.
We also seek to create inclusion—a culture that connects each staff and Volunteers to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential—throughout the Volunteer and staff lifecycle.
Diversity and Inclusion at Your Site
Once Volunteers arrive at their sites, diversity and inclusion principles remain the same but take on a different shape, in which your host community may share a common culture and you—the Volunteer—are the outsider. You may be in the minority, if not the sole American like you, at your site. You will begin to notice diversity in perspectives, ethnicity, age, depth of conversation, and degree of support you may receive—and may need to make adjustments. During pre-service training, a session will be held to discuss diversity and inclusion and how you can transcend differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for your peers.
The Peace Corps emphasizes professional behavior and cross-cultural sensitivity among Volunteers and within their communities to help integration and achieve successful service. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, you are responsible both for sharing the diversity of U.S. culture (yours and other Americans’) with your host country national counterparts, and also for learning from your host country’s diversity.
To ease the transition to life in your host country, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental, compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual, and will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these limitations. During pre-service training, staff will provide training on how to adapt personal choices and behavior to be respectful of the host country culture, and will be available for ongoing support.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
It will be important to absorb and to attempt to understand the cultural nuances of gender roles in your host country. During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in-country, and will take time to examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have impacted you. You’ll then learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in your host country and how these gender roles can benefit or limit what females and males may or may not do—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.
Dealing with the behavior of some men in the Eastern Caribbean can be challenging to an American woman of any age. There are no laws in the Eastern Caribbean against sexual harassment, so men are accustomed to making all types of remarks when a woman passes by. These remarks may vary from a simple “psst!” to “Looking good, baby!” to more sexually explicit solicitations. Even the local women whom they see every day are not spared this verbal harassment, but they may be better prepared to cope with it.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Because of limited exposure, some foreign nationals will expect all U.S. citizens to be white, and are unaware of diversity in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their skin color may vary greatly: from being mistaken for a host country national to being questioned about their U.S. citizenship, to facing behavior and language skill expectations or ridicule, to being able to get better prices for goods and services. These instances can be turned into teachable moments for the Volunteer and the host country national. All Volunteers, including white Volunteers and those of color, should be mindful of the issues of race/ethnicity that are embedded in U.S. culture and within your country of service, and should be mindful of being an ally to your fellow Volunteers.
Volunteers of color face unique challenges in the Eastern Caribbean. An African-American Volunteer may pass for a local in tourist areas, but be viewed primarily as an American by many West Indians. The key is to come without preconceptions or expectations of immediate acceptance. Other underrepresented groups may be called by names that are stereotypical and not very flattering. Also, for many Caucasian Volunteers, this will be the first time they are in the minority. The challenge is to create your own identity outside the stereotype. This is usually easier to do in your own community than in areas where you are not known.
Possible Issues for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Ally (LGBTQA) Volunteers
The Peace Corps actively supports Volunteers and staff of all genders and sexual orientations, and encourages Volunteers to serve as allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects. Many countries where the Peace Corps serves have more restrictive cultures with regard to sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities, though some are more permissive. In every country, Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers to provide them with locally informed perspectives. Some LGBTQ Volunteers have chosen to come out to community members, with a result of positive and negative reactions, while some have come out only to select Peace Corps staff and Volunteers. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or gender identity within their host community. LGBTQA support groups may be available in-country, providing a network to support the needs of the Peace Corps LGBTQA community.
Many Caribbean people are intolerant of persons with different sexual orientations. LGB Volunteers will likely have a hard time if they are open about their sexual orientation. LGBT individuals can become subjects of continued harassment and violence. Some West Indians have religious objections to LGB individuals and may shun or mock them. Volunteers who wish to be openly gay in their communities should discuss possible implications of this with staff and other LGB Volunteers before doing so. Your safety and effectiveness in your community could be jeopardized if you decide to be out.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Possible Issues for Volunteer Couples
Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Host country nationals will often not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional gender roles. It is also helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to men and women in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be changed can help reduce stress for you both.
Couples serving in the Eastern Caribbean generally have very positive Volunteer experiences. They support each other in integrating into the community, in evaluating progress in their assignments, and in putting their challenges and frustrations in perspective. Couples live together throughout their service and can opt to live apart or together during pre-service training. In addition to their individual projects, couples usually can find opportunities for collaborative work as well. However, given the small communities in the Eastern Caribbean, some couples may find the continuous presence of a spouse leaves each with little privacy. Volunteers couples may not want to participate in the same kinds of activities in which their single peers are involved, and can find that they are left out of the social “loop.” The female partner may be subjected to the same sexual harassment as a single female Volunteer. Generally, most local men will refrain from such behavior when it is established that the Volunteer is married.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
People in the Eastern Caribbean are mostly devout Christians and take religion very seriously. They go to church, pray, read the Bible, and generally engage in a variety of religious activities. Many American evangelists travel to the Caribbean to hold crusades and are well-received. It is often expected that people coming to live and work in the Eastern Caribbean will be active Christians. Volunteers of Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths may be questioned about their religious beliefs and perhaps be subjected to discrimination.
Possible Issues for 50+ Volunteers
Older Volunteers may find their age an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. But, pre-service training can be particularly stressful for older trainees, whose lifelong learning styles and habits may or may not lend themselves to the techniques used. A 50+ individual may be the only older person in a group of Volunteers and initially may not feel part of the group. Some 50+ Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to a lack of structure and clarity in their role after having worked for many years in a very structured and demanding job. More than younger Volunteers, older Volunteers may have challenges in maintaining lifelong friendships and may want to consider assigning power of attorney to someone in the States to deal with financial matters.