OGDEN — Forrest Crawford began his Weber State University “last lecture” by joking he had been fighting off sympathy cards and flowers all week.
“People have been asking me if I am quitting or I’m dying,” Crawford told his audience on Wednesday.
Crawford said he has no immediate plans to do either. His talk was part of an academic tradition that asks distinguished faculty members to share the knowledge and advice they would offer if it were, indeed, their last chance to share insights.
Crawford, a teacher education professor, has taught at Weber State for 35 years, and is a 1975 WSU graduate. He also serves as the university’s assistant to the president for diversity.
Crawford told his listeners he arrived on campus 40 years ago to play football for Weber State after growing up in poverty in Oklahoma. One of his early WSU memories is of the late Mildred Miya, an English professor.
“She asked me, ‘What is your legacy going to be?’ ” Crawford said. “And I said, ‘OK, tell me how to spell that.’ ”
Turns out, a big part of Crawford’s legacy will be his work in diversity.
“I was doing diversity when diversity wasn’t cool,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Crawford earned his master’s degree at the University of Utah and his doctorate from Brigham Young University before returning to WSU to teach.
He helped establish the Utah Coalition for the Advancement of Minorities in Higher Education. In 1992, he was appointed WSU’s first assistant to the president for institutional diversity. He co-founded and served five years as Gov. Michael Leavitt’s state-appointed chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission.
In 1996, Crawford was one of eight recipients of the highest national honor given by the Federal King Commission and the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
And on Wednesday night, Crawford was honored with the UEA 2012 Human and Civil Rights Award.
Crawford told his listeners he valued his role as a spokesman for diversity, but he didn’t believe he should always be the one to speak up. It’s the job of every person to speak out against prejudice, he said.
“We need to stop picking and choosing our battles, because we all pick the easy stuff,” he said. “Pick them all. Pick the hard battles.”
Crawford said if humanity is to thrive, all must “learn more, do more, be more.” He asked his listeners to invest in their own self-development to help elevate themselves and their communities.
Crawford called for going beyond tolerating those who are different, and respecting them. Students and teachers should share respect, as should members of different racial, religious or cultural groups.
Crawford told the story of Iroquois elders who, in the mid-1700s were invited by the colonial College of William and Mary to send a group of six male tribe members for a free education.
Canasatego, an Onondaga spokesman for the Iroquois, replied that the last batch of Iroquois students had returned from William and Mary unable to speak their native language correctly, or to hunt or run or function in Iroquois culture. The college-educated Iroquois were totally “good for nothing,” Canasatego explained.
Canasatego wrote that he understood that different cultures had different educational values. He politely declined the offer from William and Mary, but pledged a free Iroquois education for any 12 William and Mary students the college might care to send.
“If the gentlemen of Virginia shall send us a dozen of their sons, we will take great care of their education, and instruct them in all we know, and make men of them,” Canasatego said, according to historical records.
Crawford noted the College of William and Mary had offered the Iroquois tolerance rather than respect.
Tolerance is passive, but reverence is active, he said.
“Playing it safe and flying below the radar just won’t do. You have to stand up for something.”
Weber State helped make Crawford who he is today, he said, but he likes to think he also helped make Weber State what it is.
Crawford stressed the importance of “evolving to a place where you can tell the truth.”