I am someone who notices a lack of diversity in ad campaigns and websites – but more importantly the lack of empathy and comfort in organizations. I don't shy away from hard conversations, nor do I forget that I'm speaking from a place of privilege. Because of my background, I am comfortable having a conversation about diversity and inclusion with most groups. Unlike the person that says “I don't see differences – I don't see color,” I very much do... and that awareness helps me make better decisions.
As a teacher, my background makes me very comfortable with a diverse community of learners. My students come from every age group and possible background, and I treat them with a profound empathy and understanding based on my own diverse upbringing. People are surprised to learn that English is in fact my second language (French native, dual citizen), and that I am a member of a historically Black fraternity.
My first dissertation was focused on racial identity theory. I was looking at Balkanization and why people gravitate to sameness (recommend Beverly Daniel Tatum's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"). This interest has persisted in various forms, most notably in my work with Hospitalented and Travel Unity. I created Hospitalented to be the conduit for education in parts of the world where formal education is hard to come by. Several years later I use it as a trojan horse to improve economies through the multiplier effect. As a board member for Travel Unity, I engage in this work more locally. We try to help organizations recognize how they can improve their internal culture and attract more diversity. We also try to help communities be more welcoming. Through both organizations I get to exercise my passion for improving entrepreneurship opportunities for women and students of color.
I have been building community since the age of ten when I joined our local Youth Center. On that staff I worked with our team to create a welcoming environment for anyone and everyone, regardless of their background. This approach stayed with me through college as I grew into a student leader. As a resident assistant I worked hard to make sure everyone was at home. As a member of different organizations I created a number of programs that brought different groups together. Later as a student affairs professional I continued this work in different ways.
To illustrate how I have created inclusive environments, consider office space I oversaw at Indiana State University. Given that I was responsible for all fraternities and sororities (NPHC, NPC, NIC) on the campus, it was crucial that they have equal footing. In redesigning our offices it was important to create what I call "colorful space." I wanted to make sure than any student who walked in our offices felt at home. We did this by displaying items reflecting diverse organizations on the walls and removing any suggestion that one organization was more important than another. It worked. We had an incredibly collaborative Greek community. During those years I was brought in to different campuses to consult on creating Greek unity, a role I took very seriously. Around the same time I was deep into my doctoral work, focusing on racial identity theory which informed my work.
Another illustration is a program I did as an undergraduate at SUNY New Paltz. One of my fraternity brothers at the time used a wheelchair and we thought it would be good to create a disability obstacle course for students with full mobility and faculties. Perhaps less complicated than an office redesign, but the intention and potential impact was no less important. Students who went through the course developed just a little more sympathy for those who may not have sight, the use of certain limbs or the ability to hear. They could never truly empathize, but perhaps they would think twice about their decisions in the future.
Ultimately I try to be the best ally I can be. No matter someone's gender, religion, sexual preference, racial background, ability, socioeconomic status or origin, institutions of higher education should be welcoming. Those not enrolled or employed at the college or university will figure out pretty quickly if they belong – and will decide if they want to be there or not. I 'see' things most other people don't, and work hard to be proactive rather than reactive. I have been an ally when it wasn't popular, nudged marketing when pictures were inauthentic, and led forums when students were dumb enough to wear blackface.
I see the world a bit differently, and as such I always want to make sure people feel like they belong. This is at the heart of everything I do.
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