One of my responsibilities at Weber State University this week was to facilitate a 2 1/2 hour discussion about diversity and inclusion. Some of you might think that sounds like a fate worse than death, but it was quite pleasant. With 14 people representing the colleges and divisions of the university, we sat around a very long table sharing our perspectives about what diversity means to us, as well as what diversity can mean to an institution.
Perhaps one of the most powerful things I heard was from Dr. Wendy Fox-Kirk, a professor in business administration, who articulated what many of us were feeling: any statement of diversity or inclusion should be aspirational. It should help us recognize the best in ourselves and others. It should also make us want to be better people in general. This sounds like one of the goals of higher education to me.
As we continued our conversation, I was struck by the sense of hope that I felt. The people around the table had very different perspectives yet were willing to engage each other in not only civil but also friendly discussion. Participants were patient. They sought clarification if there were questions or tried to find new examples or ways of sharing their thoughts with each other. The resulting dialog was dynamic because there was a sense of trust around the table.
Now, you might think, “Well you all work together, so of course there is trust.” But the reality is that our campus is quite large. Individuals can choose to stay in one area or spread out a bit, but often, the choice is theirs. The trust that flowed in the room was organic. This group had met only once a year for the last three years. Changes in membership are common. Each meeting requires we do introductions because the members do not all know each other. This means, we all enter the discussion willing or open to believe in the positive intent of the others, while recognizing that our own impact might be off the mark.
From this hope and trust came a recognition that while we didn’t know it all, we could learn with and from each other. It also indicated that if we didn’t find the answers we were seeking today, we could come back to the table next month to continue our efforts to find common ground, while recognizing and honoring our differences in thought, belief, action and identity. In this moment, I could not ask for more.
As we prepare to welcome a new year, it occurs to me that we could all do with some hope, trust and willingness to believe the best in people. This is hard work. It can try your patience. It can also be transformational. While we look at the turmoil in the world around us, it does not stay removed, it comes to us through commerce, military intervention, social injustice and an unwillingness to find common ground through which to examine our differences and find workable solutions to the problems of our time.
My hope for this season is to be a person who is willing to do the work that brings us closer together. I hope to build trust and learn with and from other people. Finally, I hope that when we come back together next month to continue our conversation, we maintain that friendly discourse that is so critical to our survival. Will you join me?
Adrienne G. Andrews, Weber State University’s assistant vice president and chief diversity officer