Recently, I had the pleasure of working with a gentleman born in India who has been in the United States for almost 25 years; working, raising his family and contributing to his community. During breaks in our conference schedule, he shared with me his views on diversity and the steps he takes both in his personal and professional life to promote an understanding and acceptance of all types of people. These conversations led me to think deeply about diversity and the conversations I have in my own home, as well as diversity in the public school system, my community's workforce and the neighborhood in which we live.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” ― Maya Angelou
Diversity has come to be a term for a broad, systemic approach in addressing discrimination. However, diversity dimensions have exceeded race and gender and today must incorporate a wider scope of diversity issues. In addition to race and gender, we must recognize the existence and value of other populations, such as gays and lesbians, non-traditional family groups (such as blended families, cross-racial adoptive families, unrelated individuals in a family group), single head-of-household families, parents with infant children (child care), aging workers, employees caring for elderly parents and relatives (elder care), individuals and families where English is not the primary language, and people with disabilities.
Author Stephen Covey writes “Very few of us see life as it actually is. Most of us see it from we are.” Schools and communities nationwide are addressing the subject of diversity in various ways. Appalachian State University holds a Diversity Celebration. Past participants of this organized celebration have said that it’s important to celebrate diversity because:
1. Knowledge is the key to tolerance and necessary to overcome ignorance and prejudice.
2. We are all diverse people. And celebrating our differences, as well as our common interests, helps unite and educate us.
3. Through each other's diversity we become more aware of our own. Not only do we become more aware; we gain a sense of pride for the diversity of our own culture.
4. Understanding people and their backgrounds is crucial to personal and community growth.
5. It's energizing and thought provoking. We live in such an isolated area that we don't often reflect on the diverse people we have all around us.
6. Because diversity makes the world go round!
Steve Birdine, Coordinator of Diversity Programs at Clarke University in Iowa put together an outline of steps to embrace diversity and why it is so important. Among his key points were:
1. Life is simple—people make it difficult.
2. We must acknowledge the “cultural filters” through which we view life. These filters (education, parents, media, friends, etc.) influence our interactions.
3. We must all be accepting of open and honest dialogue – it may help clear away misconceptions. Prior to open and honest dialogue, stereotypes play a major role in our lack of interaction.
4. We all need to put ourselves “in someone else’s place.” How many of us have ever been the “minority” in a situation?
5. We all need “to be a little uncomfortable for everyone to be comfortable.”
6. Diversity dialogue must become “win-win” situation. We need to think about what we all stand to gain as opposed to what we stand to lose.
7. Diversity is not just black-white. It is left handed people in a right-handed world. It’s tall people amongst short folk. It is people from the East coast compared to people from the Midwest. At some point, we all represent diversity!
8. Diversity dialogue is NOT an intellectual conversation. Educated folks are taught to justify and rationalize everything. “Common sense” can go a long way. Diversity dialogue must move from YOUR HEAD TO YOUR HEART!
In summary, Steve Birdine notes, “there are a number of benefits gained from valuing, appreciating and nurturing the diversity amongst us”.
I couldn’t agree more.
Steve Birdine, Coordinator of Diversity Programs, Clarke University http://www.clarke.edu/media/files/Multicultural_Student_Services/diversitymadesimple.pdf
Center Point for Leaders http://www.centerpointforleaders.org/virtual_diversity.html
Diversity Celebration at Appalachian State University http://celebration.appstate.edu/about/why-celebrate