The Baby Talk of “Inclusion and Belonging:” Higher Education is Not a 6th Grade After-School Club

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Brutal Minds on May 14, 2024 and is crossposted here with permission.

American higher education is, in its best incarnation, both a place and an endeavor where rigorous and demanding instruction occurs for America’s best and brightest students in a passing-on of the best that has been thought, written, and said.

It is a place where new knowledge is created according to a method hard-won over centuries. That, at least, is the mythologized ideal.

Certainly, higher education is not a senior living facility, nor is it a 6th-grade after-school club.

Yet many colleges and universities embrace an infantile cult mantra in their public messaging. This mantra is the cringe-worthy phrase “inclusion and belonging.”

This soft gibberish may be suitable, barely, for insecure pre-teens, but it surely is not for mature young people entering the world of adults.

As long as colleges and universities continue to infantilize their incoming students with the risible baby-talk of “inclusion and belonging,” they will find it increasingly difficult to attract top-caliber students committed to rigorous instruction in an academically demanding environment.

“Inclusion and Belonging” is an especially awful trope. If you think it sounds creepy, as many people do, it’s likely because it mimics the Unification Church’s long-time mantra of “Peace and Unity.” The Unification Church is better-known as the “Moonies.”

“Inclusion and Belonging” has cult-like resonance, and that’s no accident.

It sounds good to the soft mind. It contains no challenge. It demands nothing from the person. It is disarming. It feels good, just as any skilled flattery is meant to. It is suitable to every occasion and can justify almost any “social justice” boondoggle.

It is the lead-in mantra for what is known in cults as “love-bombing.”

All cults use a variant of “love bombing” to attract recruits.

Love bombing consists in creating an artificial cocoon of overwhelming affection and unconditional acceptance — “inclusion and belonging” — around the student target to disarm the target of healthy skepticism and doubt.

The goal is to create an environment of “trust,” where the target is encouraged to “self-disclose” and “make yourself vulnerable.”

Psychologists Dennis Tourish and Naheed Vatcha put it this way:

Cult leaders make great ceremony of showing individual consideration for their members — at least, immediately before and after they join. Prospective recruits are showered with attention, which expands to affection and then often grows into a simulation of love. This is the courtship phase of the recruitment ritual. The leader wishes to seduce the new recruit into the organization’s embrace, gradually habituating them to its rituals and belief systems. Individual consideration overcomes moods of resistance, by blurring distinctions between personal relationships, theoretical constructs, and bizarre behaviours.

Viewed in this context, the baby-talk of “inclusion and belonging” makes sense as part of the repertoire of techniques used to allay suspicions that something isn’t quite right. Cult expert Steven Hassan, a former Moonie who escaped the cult, shares that this focus on so-called “belonging” is a key success factor for diligent cults.

Many people have a genuine impulse to work together with others as a team for a variety of social or religious causes … Cult life gives them just such an opportunity, along with the apparent benefits of “belonging” that comes from an intense group experience.

Love bombing is essential to the successful deployment of thought reform. For the target college students the goal is to strip the student of resistance so that the target is ready to more freely divulge personal information. Says Hassan:

College students pressured by academic work and a need for acceptance make friends with a professional cult recruiter, or go to a group’s presentation on some current social issue … The recruiter starts to learn all about the potential recruit-their hopes, dreams, fears, relationships, job and interests. The more information the recruiter can elicit, the greater their opportunity to manipulate the person.

The technique of “love bombing” launched by the initial propagandistic foray of “inclusion and belonging” is essential to the success of any thought reform program.

It is the gateway through which every ideology must pass for it to be successful in recruiting adherents. It mitigates the healthy skepticism that most persons have with regard to esoteric doctrines proffered by folks who seem too eager to profess friendship and solicit personal information. It is essential, chiefly at the initial contact with the recruit, say academics Tourish and Vatcha.

The problem is that the prospective recruit’s resistance is likely to be at its highest immediately before they join. They have yet to buy into the belief system or invest much energy in pursuit of the group’s goals, and they still have plentiful other choices. The challenge is to recruit and initiate people into the group, engage a process of conversion and then reinforce it with indoctrination.

Dr. Mark Griffiths is a professor in the Trent University psychology department, and has a pointed notion on the phenomenon of “love bombing,” which is far more prevalent in American society that many people realize. A major question for universities and colleges is, simply . . . why?

Why do this?

Unless the college is engaged in some kind of psychological preparation of its entering students, why embrace this childish, farcical flattery in recruitment messages for young adults?

Yet many schools have adopted this creepy “inclusion and belonging” with its clear cultic links. It shows a stupendous lack of administrative due diligence and inability to self-examine, let alone self-police and exercise prudent oversight.

It prompts reasonable questions as to who believes this baby-talk messaging is a good thing, who made these decisions, who works for them, and why these messages have emerged as the primary communication to the target market.

It demonstrates the dangers of empowering kumbaya professionals, who have little depth and breadth of higher education experience, and who transmit fabulous absurdities.

These are important considerations, especially in financially constrained circumstances.

In these economically parlous times, colleges have loaded up their bureaucracies with functionaries who add no value, but who drain resources from academic affairs and who damage the reputation of the university with childish messaging completely inappropriate to the work of mature adults in genuine higher education.

The fat is begging to be trimmed. It’s time to do it.

Let’s start with those who purvey the cultic baby-talk of “inclusion and belonging.”

Photo by nicoletaionescu — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 313342350 & Edited by Jared Gould


  • Stanley K. Ridgley

    Stanley K. Ridgley, Ph.D., IMBA is clinical full professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and author of "Brutal Minds: The Dark World of Left-Wing Brainwashing in Our Universities" (Humanix Books, 2023). He is a former military intelligence officer and has taught in Russia, China, India, Spain, and Colombia. He holds a PhD from Duke University.

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One thought on “The Baby Talk of “Inclusion and Belonging:” Higher Education is Not a 6th Grade After-School Club”

  1. Sharply reasoned and skillfully presented argument… one may hope that our institutions of higher learning, many of which are drifting into nihilstic cultism, will take the message to heart before so much harm is done that we cannot recover.

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