I like diversity, even though sometimes being with people who are very different from me can make me uncomfortable. It is the kind of uncomfortable that challenges me to grow as a person, as a teacher, and as a scholar and I appreciate that kind of uncomfortable. I am sharing that because I want to encourage all of us to go outside of our comfort zones when it comes to diversity because I think it benefits our students if we do.
One of the ways that faculty and administrators can go outside of our comfort zones is to have honest conversations about the racial diversity on campus among the faculty and staff. Personally I don’t think that trying to have the faculty and staff reflect the diversity of our student population is an ambitious enough goal. I think every student deserves to be able to encounter someone on the faculty and staff with whom they can identity.
As a student at The University of Oklahoma, I had two African-American professors. One of them was a psychology professor. She was a Princeton and Stanford graduate, and she was the most amazing person I had ever met (in fact, she is still the most amazing person I have ever met). She inspired me to pursue my own graduate education. Meeting her was like opening up an entirely new world to me. I had not considered the possibility that someone like me could go to graduate school and become a professor until I met her. Now maybe I am unusual in that way (I know I am unusual in other ways) but I doubt it. I needed to see it to believe it, and I don’t think our students are that different from the way that I was as a student. Yes, I know, there are a lot more ways for students to be exposed to people who can model behaviors for them, there is all the information we can access on our tablets and smartphones, however there is no substitute for one-on-one contact with someone who can do more than just show us that it is possible to succeed. There is no substitute for having access to a real live person who can help us to learn the culture of the professional world.
There is no substitute for students being able to see themselves in us.