Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Dimensions of Diversity: When You Teach, You Learn

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Dimensions of Diversity: When You Teach, You Learn

Article excerpt

Sometimes when I look at the landscape of my life, I'm frustrated. There is always something that should be done, but for some reason or other, can't be done. There are seemingly endless agitations, countless bitter setbacks and overwhelming odds. Too often, I know frustration better than the lines on the back of my hand. But when the frustration is too challenging, even strangling, I have had a light come shining through fog, a chance to count my blessings.

One of my blessings of 2005 was to have been appointed the Johnnetta B. Cole Professor of Diversity and Inclusion at Bennett College for Women. It has been a blast working with phenomenal students whose minds have been open to learning about our diverse world and the way we navigate it. Why should Black women be at the forefront of a movement around diversity, one might ask? Why shouldn't we be, especially if this notion of inclusion is a core value for us.

One major focus in our diversity efforts is simply "feeling" the issue of inclusion. I think that concept may be especially challenging for some African-Americans who, at the periphery for so long, chafe at the notion that other people are now chomping on "our turf." If we are to make a legitimate case for diversity and inclusion, it can't just say that Black folk need to be brought to the table. We must also champion the right of inclusion for other minority groups - Latinos, Asians, American Indians, gays and lesbians, women, the disabled community and so many others.

Does this dilute the real claim that any of these groups, especially African-Americans, have about an America that has exploited and peripheralized us? I say not. But the equal employment argument is different from the affirmative action argument. And the affirmative action argument is different from the diversity argument. The diversity argument is different from the wealth gap/reparations argument. But while all of these conversations are different, I'm sure most of us realize that they are also all connected.

Recently, several Bennett Belles reminded me that we can embrace diverse sisters without giving up any of the issues we care about. One of their Bennett sisters, sophomore Robin Gray, is a member of the First Nation, the term favored in Canada as opposed to "Indian" or "Native Canadian." One day, Gray informed the class that November was National American Indian Heritage Month. I, like most of my students, was completely unaware. We talked about the things we could do to make sure that Bennett students had the opportunity to know more about American Indian culture and the many ways it is intertwined with Black heritage, history and culture. …

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