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?
Gender RolesIt 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.
In general, Volunteers in Indonesia should expect to encounter more traditional and conservative gender roles in their schools, communities, and host families. Men and boys enjoy higher status in many situations than women and girls, whom are often responsible for managing households along with their other duties outside the home. As members of their host communities, both male and female Volunteers will often be viewed through the lens of these gender expectations and can expect to receive many questions and occasional critique if their behaviors do not conform to gender expectations. It is important to keep in mind that Indonesia is a richly diverse place, and the various villages and cities in East and West Java that will host Volunteers are as diverse as the American social landscape. Volunteers should prepare to expect the unexpected in their experience with gender roles, as with most aspects of life in Indonesia.
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 should be particularly mindful of Indonesian attitudes toward racial and ethnic diversity. Indonesia’s population comprises thousands of cultures and ethnic groups, and there is no single set of physical characteristics that can be said to be distinctly “Indonesian.” On Java, darker-skinned Indonesians are often assumed to be from other areas of the country that are often more remote, poorer, or of less dominant cultural standing. In addition to the dynamics described above, wherein Volunteers of color many be assumed not to be “real” Americans, many Volunteers of color might also encounter assumptions that they are from other areas or ethnic groups of Indonesia. African-American Volunteers, for example, might receive questions as to whether they are from Papua, while Asian-American Volunteers might be taken for Chinese-Indonesians. All Volunteers will experience unwanted attention, however Volunteers of color often receive increased unwanted attention based on their appearance and can expect numerous questions from friends and strangers alike. As with discussions about gender roles as described above, respectful exchanges regarding race and ethnicity can make for rewarding Volunteer experiences that can help to balance some of the more trying aspects of serving as a Volunteer of color in Indonesia.
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. More information about serving as an LGBTQ Volunteer is available at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Peace Corps Alumni website at lgbrpcv.org. Additionally, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
The Peace Corps/Indonesia community, including Volunteers and staff, intends to create open, inclusive, and accepting environments. LGBTQA community resources will vary according to location, with more well-known organizations being located in the larger cities of East and West Java. In smaller towns and villages where Volunteers may be placed, LGBTQA community resources may be sparse or non-existent.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively. For additional support, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
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.
If you are joining Peace Corps/Indonesia with your spouse, you will experience rewards and frustrations similar to any Volunteer; however, your marital status will add a dimension—sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not—to your community integration. Your Indonesian host-family, school colleagues, and neighbors will be curious about your marriage, and topics such as gender roles, family planning, and degrees of independence or privacy may become points of frequent discussion. During the 10 weeks of PST, you will live in the same community as your spouse, but in a different household. This is meant to facilitate rapid language learning and cultural adaptation. At the end of training, you and your spouse will live together with a host family at your permanent site, where you will be assigned to teach at different schools.