A Call to Action in Inclusive Diversity

By: Dr. Makini King, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

As we usher in a new school year, let us reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion. In doing so we should first recognize that these are not simply words, but a commitment of action that emboldens us to both recognize and embrace our differences as assets rather than inconveniences. Audre Lorde posited that “we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing…but we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals”(Lorde, 1984).

While our commonalities may serve to humanize us, our diversity serves to enrichen our lived experiences. For too long we have been socialized to see racial, ethnic, religious, class, faith, gender, sexual orientation, and ability diversity as an inconvenience, something we are legally obligated to accommodate. We are taught to initially and perhaps perpetually challenge the new ideas of Others. We focus on the temporary inconvenience of doing things differently rather than the long-term benefits of original solutions. There is, of course, empirical evidence that diversity is in fact an asset. Studies show that diversity can improve the citizenship and civic engagement of students (Gurin, Nagda, & Lopez, 2004), increase creativity and generate more innovative problem solving (Bassett-Jones, 2005).

In order to reap the benefits of diversity, we must first breach the barrier of the familiar and enter the space of the unknown. There is a certain comfort in doing what has always been done, but there is also a cost. Inclusive diversity is naturally innovative. It provides a built-in method of “thinking outside the box.” When we are offered the contributions of those who have experiences different than our own, we might try to accept the offering as an opportunity for growth. But we have to be willing to take the risk; resist our resistance to difference, press beyond the fear, embrace the inconvenient labor of change and ultimately open ourselves to an evolution.

At UMKC we must capitalize on the unique assets that exist in each one of us. In this new year we welcome our new staff, faculty and students. We know that with new people come new identities, experiences and a wealth of new knowledge. Let’s alter the traditional course and see our differences not only as equal, but as assets. Let us continue to create more inclusive spaces so that we can, together, embrace the gifts of our diverse community.