Seeking Knowledge on Diversity & Inclusion

I’m taking a course this semester called Diversity for Global Society. It is part of the Virginia Tech Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education Initiative and this course is designed to introduce students to concepts in diversity, inclusion, and equity and how they relate to higher education–both here at Virginia Tech and from a global perspective.

The environment in which a person grows up and the culture experienced therein results in many underlying assumptions, misconceptions, and biases that influence the way a person experiences the present. This background often influences a person’s experience of diversity, inclusion, race/racism, class, economy, and equity. In this class, we address these issues head-on in a way that helps us grow into better people who are equipped with the knowledge to be able to navigate the world as global citizens.

I’ll be frank. As I’m writing this entry, I keep thinking, “there’s no way that I can describe this course better or more concisely as it is described in the syllabus.” So here is an excerpt from the GRAD 5214 syllabus:

 

 

 

So this post is about a couple of things.

  1. First, as I mentioned above, I am taking Diversity for Global Society this semester. It is being taught by Christian Matheis, the Director of Recruitment and Diversity Initatives at the Graduate School.
  2. Second, I wanted to share my experience at the James Thomas lecture that was hosted by the sociology department last Friday.
  3. And the third thing I wanted to share was a couple of articles I found relating to some civil rights incidents that Thomas discussed in his talk.

I know that my understanding of diversity and inclusion will likely change over the course of the semester as I learn more about topics, approaches, and the lived experiences of those who confront/are confronted with diversity issues in their day to day life. With that in mind, please remember that I am human. I am trying to grow as a person. I may make mistakes along this journey, but I am trying to learn the appropriate language, terminology, and frame of mind required to truly see diversity and inclusion in a way that I haven’t been able to before. Join me this semester for an exploration into what it means to be a global citizen and why diversity is so important for the success of a global community.


I went to James Thomas’ (University of Mississippi) public lecture “Diversity Regimes in Higher Education” last Friday. It was forwarded along by the professor and I am really very glad that I went.  His lecture provided a more in-depth understanding of how diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs are playing out in higher ed (at least at the one particular university in his study, “Diversity University”).

He talked for an hour and a half, setting up his lecture with stories, quotes, and memorable moments from his experience. As an ethnographer, he stated that it was the best way he knew how to relate what he had observed and had come to understand.

I will (attempt to) share with you all the notes that I took from his lecture. More or less as I wrote them. I took pictures of lecture slides, too… and I pretty much captured all that he shared with the audience. I did this for two reasons: to share with my class and so that I would have a take-away to have on-hand for future reflection. I want to preface this with the understanding that I am attributing these ideas to Professor Thomas. I was only jotting down statements or points he was making as they struck a chord with me. I wanted to be able to share my experience with the class and so this is just rough note-taking and for the most part, lacks any synthesis from me. With that said, understand that some of what I include may be a direct quote but unless I know it is from an indicator in my notes, I will generally not be including ” ” here.

So without further ado, here are the take-away points and interesting highlights from Thomas’ lecture “Diversity Regimes in Higher Education” starting with photos I took during the talk of his slides. I cut half of one off close to the end–not sure how that happened!

 

 

 

 

 

Notes I jotted down during the lecture:

  • History: 1962 Battle of Oxford, James Meredith; 2012 Obama’s reelection–both inspired riots
    • viral racist tweets
    • 40-50 students transformed into a crowd of hundreds
  • University of Mississippi claiming strides for diversity & inclusion, but body/public behavior are in conflict
    • Acts don’t fit the culture
    • Cognitive dissonance between what is being said, done and understood
  • Fatigue is an issue (with respect to whites being tired of talking about race.)
  • Diversity’s articulation process–how it is communicated–matters
  • Development of values can help ease the issue
  • Education empowers us to rise–or so U.S. Americans believe
  • Racially diverse campuses are better for white students than minorities. Diverse campuses teach white students about other cultures; minority students still face daily. microaggressions & isolation
  • By the numbers, colleges are more diverse, but campuses are still experiencing racial hostility & it is everywhere.
  • Minority faculty have similar experiences as students. (Microaggressions, isolation, etc.)
  • His research focused on diversity’s processes; so it can address the underlying issues (looks at diversity workers vs diversity as it is experienced.)
  • “Sociology that makes the familiar strange.”
  • Studied those who were most involved in diversity initatives.
  • Universities must demonstrate policy and efforts toward diversity to fulfill legal obligations without making any actual changes.
  • “Race consciousness” as a concept/state of being/understanding.
  • Diversity & inclusion has been defined, organized and deployed in higher education; there are concerns with engagement issues.
  • Focus on material transformations that must take place to achieve equity, diversity, & inclusion.
  • Question whether the work we are doing is doing what we hope it will–addressing the inequality in higher education (and actually making a difference.)
  • Diversity regimes perpetuate exclusion because they don’t fundamentally change behavior or the institution.
  • If diversity means so many different things, it ends up being so broad it is hard to act on it and/or change policy

Condensation

Decentralization

  • Absence of oversight & the resultant frustrations.
  • Departments, programs define their own meaning; some focus on diverse educational experiences, diverse geographic background, diverse in race, etc.
  • Any number of criteria can count as diversity.

Staging of Difference

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New research he is working on: “Racial Diary Project” where students are asked to record racial incidents–positive or negative and include details on the event.

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Thomas brings up important questions that I think we all need to be asking ourselves when it comes to diversity & inclusion (and in general about everything…):

  1. Is the diversity & inclusion work we are doing actually achieving its goals?
  2. How is the result of this diversity experienced by the people who live(d) it?
  3. What can we do to actually make a difference for diversity & inclusion in Higher Ed?

 


Every time I learn something new, I try to apply that knowledge. On issues related to diversity & inclusion I am no different. I come from Mississippi, but I did not attend the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) nor can I say I am even fluent in all the civil rights history that happened in my home state. I know a few facts here and there, but it has been a long time since I have been an active learner of civil rights history.

(Upon reflection, I realize it’s time now for me to read a primer at least–and make effort to keep that knowledge alive inside me. How can I claim to want to do better if I don’t even understand the past?)

Since the Thomas lecture, I have been researching the events he mentioned that happened on Ole Miss’ campus. I will attempt to tell a little bit of the story about them here and will also offer a couple of interesting links to continue reading about the history of race relations in Oxford, Mississippi.

In 1962, there were riots over desegregation when James H. Meredith attempted to enroll at Ole Miss following a lengthy court battle which resulted in the college being forced to let him attend after it was determined that the only reason why he was denied admission was because he was black. Meredith, a 29 year-old U.S. Air Force serviceman, had to be escorted onto campus by U.S. Marshals, which sparked the riot. Two men were killed. The next day, Meredith was allowed to enroll in classes.

There is a brief synopsis by the History Channel on their This Day in History story from 2010: Riots over desegregation of Ole Miss.

Pressing a little further, I found the most interesting essay written as a reflection on history 50 years later: Legacies of the Battles of Ole Miss: The Meredith Crisis and the 1965 Southern Literary Festival. The author, anonymous, was a first year graduate student when Meredith enrolled and was at Ole Miss during the same time he was. The author describes his experiences as a graduate student and member of the Mississippi National Guard, who was called that day to perform riot control on campus.

An excerpt, the last paragraph:

I conclude with a postscript. This has been an essay about personal history, which, like all history, usually can be understood, if at all, only in retrospect. So I offer a retrospective impression. Flash forward to several years later. I am back on the Ole Miss campus to participate in the annual Faulkner conference. One late afternoon, needing some exercise, I go for a jog around the campus. Returning to the Alumni House on the eastern edge of campus, and now walking, I pass the Lyceum and cross the area which had been the scene of the 1962 riot. The stately columns of the Lyceum are now smooth and white, showing no trace of the bullet marks that were visible for months after the riot. The scene is calm and quiet and clean: no tear gas, no burning vehicles, no angry and screaming mob, no threatened reporters, no uniformed soldiers. A squirrel moves leisurely across the grass; a mockingbird sings her heart out in a nearby oak. Continuing on, I pass a picnic table at which are seated a young man and a young woman, students I presume, sharing a late afternoon snack. Both are African Americans, and they are obviously enjoying themselves: relaxed, laughing, happy in each other’s company—and completely indifferent to the white man walking past. I wonder if they know the bloody history of this spot of ground, if they’ve ever heard of James Meredith or Cleve McDowell or Cleveland Donald or the other blacks who paved the way for their attendance at this institution. Probably not, I suspect, but does that really matter? What matters is that they are here, and welcome, and safe, and unafraid, entirely at ease in this place, subject to no threat of harm or censure. Not fifty yards away stands the Confederate soldier high on his marble pedestal. He too is calm and peaceful in this new world, and I like to think that he now celebrates with us not the divisions and conflicts of the past but the brighter, nobler promises of the future we always yearn and strive for, and sometimes possess.

Thomas also talked about how in 2012 there were riots in response to President Obama’s reelection. On these riots, a Time article “Did University of Mississippi Students really ‘Riot’ over election results? From what I understand, there were both protesters and gawkers at this riot.


I ask myself, what can I do to create a more inclusive environment among my peers and students? Although I geared this post towards topics in Higher Education, I still want to emphasize that diversity and inclusion are principles I value and am committed to supporting.

I strongly believe we are but one race: the human race.


Image Credits

“Diversity in Higher Ed” Vector People

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