Guidelines: Diversity and Inclusion

This page covers some difficult topics about groups that have often been marginalized. ICmatch is set up to support the creation of intentional communities of diverse sizes, missions, and values. At the same time that we value diversity and inclusion, we realize that not everyone is ready for a level of inclusiveness that ICmatch most wants to support. We believe it’s important to help people be open and honest about their preferences and needs around diversity and inclusion. This can give communities a better chance to match up well and last longer.

This page can be used to guide your description of your group’s member selection process. You might add some of the copy-and-paste options to the description of your member selection process.

The grey sections below might help you find the right language to describe your preferences and agreements. It can be a challenge to be both respectful and honest about what you believe will work for you, your household, or the intentional community you envision. Feel free to also copy and paste from these descriptions to fill out your profile questions in the category labeled Diversity.

Physical Disability and Learning Difficulties 

Mobility accommodations: Note any mobility or accessibility accommodations that your group plans to offer. Some ICs choose to design for wheelchair accessibility, while others might note limitations, such as stairs and a lack of funds to add accessibility features to an existing historic building.

Learning difficulty accommodations: Note any learning difficulty accommodations that your group plans to offer.

Language suggestions
Two youth groups have weighed in on respectful disability language. The ADA also has language recommendations. Different generations may have different preferences and norms about what language is non-stigmatizing and not awkward. It’s okay if you use what feels respectful to your group. It's a good idea to run it by a few others in the demographic you're intending to reach. 

Socioeconomic Differences

Intentional communities often seek to create more socioeconomic equity. There is often overlap among disadvantaged demographic groups and lower socioeconomic classes. One way to remedy this situation is that residential communities can legally set aside membership slots for people with low income. Some communities choose to focus on a specific underserved subset of people who experience socioeconomic inequity, to meet specific needs. As social service organizations struggle with overwhelming demand, limited funding, and political gridlock that prevents us from moving toward large-scale solutions, these grass-roots efforts to provide a social safety net are all the more necessary. See our page on housing for vulnerable populations.

Our legal and economic policies created a system that advantages the wealthy at the expense of the poor, trapping low-income renters into a struggle to survive. Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, writes the following:

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have restricted housing aid to the poor but expanded it to the affluent in the form of tax benefits for homeowners….Each year, we spend three times what a universal housing voucher program is estimated to cost (in total ) on homeowner benefits, like the mortgage-interest deduction and the capital-gains exclusion….Most federal housing subsidies benefit families with six-figure incomes….Exploitation. Now, there’s a word that has been scrubbed out of the poverty debate. It is a word that speaks to the fact that poverty is not just a product of low incomes. It is also a product of extractive markets….the poor pay more for their housing, food, durable goods, and credit….Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on….If we acknowledge that housing is a basic right of all Americans, then we must think differently about another right: the right to make as much money as possible by providing families with housing. And especially to profit excessively from the less fortunate.

Learn more
Podcast: How to repair the housing crisis (with Jenny Schuetz).

Gender and Sexual Identity

People may make untrue assumptions based on what they have heard about or experienced in IC settings, so as awkward as it may feel to some, it can be helpful for prospective members to know a few basics. Members who are not partnered may be especially interested to know what behaviors will be okay. There is a separate section that covers couple relationships

If you don’t yet have details worked out, your group might want to state at least one of the following, which might point to a general direction you expect to go:

    • We welcome diversity of sexual identities and genders

    • Conservative cultural norms around sex and gender are generally adhered to in our community

Genders welcome in IC:

Some student dorms or retirement homes are gender segregated. If not segregated, if there is a lot of shared intimate space, it will be important to some to know if there are separate sleeping spaces and bathrooms for different genders.

Sexual orientations welcome in IC:

This is not to promote intolerance or exclusion. It’s to help people identify compatible others who they want to live with and/or share most closely with. Which of these does your group find comfortable to live with? Heterosexual (straight), Cisgender (gender normative), LGBTQ+

·   Our IC is open to a variety of sexual identities or gender identities.
·   Our IC seeks especially to welcome [state if you are focused on supporting one or more specifically].
·   Our religious or philosophical beliefs support only binary sexual and gender identities.

If you plan to have a queer-focused IC, you can indicate this interest in your profile responses. In the first profile category Community Type, the item Service-based IC has options that include “Services and/or residence for 2SLGBTQIA+ (queer people).” The Community Types include a LGBTQ+ commune page.

You might describe whether there are limitations for identities you would be comfortable with in various contexts such as (a) co-creating as founding members, (b) living in close proximity (e.g., shared kitchens and bathrooms), or (c) medium proximity (e.g., shared recreation facilities and work space). You might describe feeling most comfortable with a specific majority, but a willingness to live with some amount of diversity. Alternatively, you might feel a need to live among others with a similar defined identity.

Language suggestions
If you are unfamiliar with this topic, Wikipedia’s page titled "LGBT" is a starting point to understand more and to find wording that describes your views. Here are some terms you might use to describe your preferences and needs. 

·   Non-binary: an umbrella (general) term for gender identities that are not solely male or female; overlaps with the terms queer or genderqueer
·   Queer: “describes any person who does not fit into what is considered normal by most of society when talking about their gender and/or sexuality” (according to the Simple English Wikipedia) 
·   Trans (short for transgender): a person whose gender identity does not correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth
·   Natal female or natal male: the sex one was assigned at birth based on primary sex characteristics
·   Cisgender: presenting as gender-normative for ones natal sex
·   Heterosexual: “straight” or sexually attracted to the “opposite” sex
·   Cisgender-heterosexual (sometimes abbreviated cis-het): is a combination of the above two definitions
·   Female-identifying: cisgender natal females and trans women
·   Male-identifying: cisgender natal males and trans men
·   Gender diverse or “any gender identity”: includes all of the above

Race and Ethnicity 

Racial or ethnic identities: Note any cultural, language, or other accommodations that your household or group plans to offer.

Here are some suggestions for wording about different levels of race or ethnicity inclusion. Feel free to cut and paste from these phrases for your profile response or your group’s member selection criteria. 

I am comfortable… 

(a) co-creating as founding members with someone who is… 

(b) sharing space (living and working) in an IC that has members…

·   of any race or ethnicity, as long as they are comfortable with me 

·   of any race or ethnicity, if they are already familiar with ways to make communities accessible and welcoming to multi-racial and multi-ethnic membership

·   interested in learning how to make communities accessible and welcoming to multi-racial and multi-ethnic membership

·   who are not going to pressure me to be inclusive; life is hard enuf without trying to make things work with people vastly different from yourself

If you are inspired by the topic of equity for Black, indigenous, and people of color, you can indicate this interest in your profile responses. See the Resources section in the BIPOC community type page. In the first profile category Community Type, the item Service-based IC has options that include “Services and/or residence for BIPOC.” 

Feel free to copy and paste into your response any of the following statements that you agree with, or modify the statements as you see fit. Discussing issues of race and ethnicity can be challenging, so it’s important that we have the same understanding of the words we’re using when we describe our ideals for intentional community. If some terms are unfamiliar to you, please take a look at the definitions below this section.

·   Community should be a safe space to practice the traditions and beliefs that are vital to you (unless causing harm to others), while being invited to be transformed by your experiences, to grow without the expectation that you must change completely. 

·   Voluntary cultural assimilation has been a practical way of getting along with others in a nation that is comprised of a variety of traditions. Similar to having a common language, we can’t have a peaceful productive relationship without basic shared culture.

·   Cultural assimilation assumes the dominant culture is superior. 

·   Many times cultural assimilation has been coerced by law or contingent economic advantages, so I’m suspicious of any statement of the value of assimilation.

·   Cultural integration is aided by intentional community, giving a minority group a place where their unique cultural differences can be expressed freely, while they might choose to adopt more mainstream presentations outside their community.

·   Cultural integration is unhelpful because it encourages assimilation, which does not honor ones heritage.

·   Cultural integration is unhelpful because it is an alternative to the better goal of assimilation.

·   Anti-racism is one of the most important social movements of our time. Intentional communities have an opportunity and obligation to support this work.

·   Anti-racism work as typically practiced does minorities a disservice, because it distracts from more effective ways of working toward equity and fairness.

·   Anti-racism work is dangerous or unhelpful because it fosters a victim mentality.

·   Separatism is aided by intentional community, giving a minority group a place where their unique cultural differences can be expressed freely, without the need to adopt mainstream presentations.

·   Separatism, even if promoted by minority groups, is dangerous because it is close to segregationist ideology.

Language suggestions

Cultural assimilation: This is the “melting pot” ideal that was dominant in the mainstream culture for much of U.S. history. “During cultural assimilation, minority groups are expected to adapt to the everyday practices of the dominant culture through language and appearance as well as via more significant socioeconomic factors such as absorption into the local cultural and employment community….Assimilation could also involve the so-called additive acculturation wherein, instead of replacing the ancestral culture, an individual expands their existing cultural repertoire” (Wikipedia, “Cultural assimilation,” para. 3, 5).

Cultural integration: “mostly found in multicultural communities, a minority group within a given society adopts aspects of the dominant culture through either cultural diffusion or for practical reasons like adapting to another society's social norms while retaining their original culture” (Wikipedia, “Cultural assimilation,” para. 4).

Anti-racism: This stance “encompasses a range of ideas and political actions which are meant to counter racial prejudice, systemic racism, and the oppression of specific racial groups. Anti-racism is usually structured around conscious efforts and deliberate actions which are intended to provide equal opportunities for all people on both an individual and a systemic level. As a philosophy, it can be engaged in by the acknowledgment of personal privileges, confronting acts as well as systems of racial discrimination, and/or working to change personal racial biases. Major contemporary anti-racism efforts include Black Lives Matter organizing and workplace antiracism” (Wikipedia, “Anti-racism,” para. 1). “Specific tactics include: revealing the hidden biases or agendas behind acts of discrimination, interrupting and challenging oppressive language, educating offenders, and connecting with other allies and community members are ways to act against discrimination. Using these micro-interventions allows the oppressor to see the impact of their words and provides a space for an educational dialogue about how their actions can oppress people of color and marginalized groups” (Wikipedia, “Anti-racism,” sec. Intervention strategies).

Separatism: “Separatist groups practice a form of identity politics, or political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of the group's members. Such groups believe attempts at integration with dominant groups compromise their identity and ability to pursue greater self-determination” (Wikipedia, “Separatism,” para. 2)....“More mainstream views within black separatism hold that black people would be better served by schools and businesses that are exclusively for black people, as well as by local black politicians and police. [Adherents] include the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party” (Wikipedia, “Black separatism,” para. 5, 6).

Criminal or Eviction Record

Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, implores us to act on  the harsh realities faced by 37.9 million in the United States who meet the official poverty level income and face constant housing insecurity.

We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty….Our cities have become unaffordable to our poorest families, and this problem is leaving a deep and jagged scar on our next generation….Often, evicted families also lose the opportunity to benefit from public housing because Housing Authorities count evictions and unpaid debt as strikes when reviewing applications. And so people who have the greatest need for housing assistance—the rent-burdened and evicted—are systematically denied it….Suicides attributed to evictions and foreclosures doubled between 2005 and 2010, years when housing costs soared….Every year in this country, people are evicted from their homes not by the tens of thousands or even the hundreds of thousands but by the millions.

Discrimination has resulted in disproportion of some racial or ethnic demographics experiencing more poverty and homelessness.

equal treatment in an unequal society could still foster inequality. Because Black men were disproportionately incarcerated and Black women disproportionately evicted, uniformly denying housing to applicants with recent criminal or eviction records still had an incommensurate impact on African Americans….In the vast majority of cases (83%), landlords who received a nuisance citation for domestic violence responded by either evicting the tenants or by threatening to evict them for future police calls. Sometimes, this meant evicting a couple, but most of the time landlords evicted women abused by men who did not live with them.

This needs both policy change and, because that usually takes time, we also need grass roots action that can include intentional communities. To those who bring up the minor moral failings that contribute to the challenges of poverty, how about we focus instead on that annual $830 billion in corporate fraud?

Learn more
How the tax system impoverishes Black Americans (with Dorothy A. Brown): This podcast discusses the policies that perpetuate the wealth gap, which disproportionally affects many ethnic minorities. 

DEI Commitment

Intentional communities often have difficulty recruiting and retaining people from populations who have historically been under-represented or subject to discrimination. Those who have experienced discrimination because of their background, identity, disability, socioeconomic status, et cetera may not feel welcome unless specifically invited. Some ICs are actively creating cultures where people of various backgrounds feel welcome and a sense of belonging. The diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) framework is an example of a tool many organizations find helpful in their ongoing commitment to designing for diverse membership. Share information about your general and specific priorities for diversity within a community. Share the frameworks you have knowledge or training in and expectations you have around others’ prior training and willingness to continue training.

Social justice oriented intentional community members have commented that ICs sometimes replicate upper-middle class systems inherited from White supremacy culture. This can be done unintentionally when we lack awareness of the challenges others face, when they don’t live in our neighborhoods and spend frequent time in the same spaces. Learning about these issues can help you create a more inclusive and welcoming community for those who have been marginalized or largely excluded from the benefits that are afforded to those who get a head start in life opportunities. 

Learn more
Can the economy be liberated? (with Jeremie Greer): This podcast discusses the wealth gap especially as it affects many ethnic minorities.