October 25, 2006

Prof Suggests Ways to Be ‘Model of Diversity’

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“Who here knows everything?” asked Dr. Jenice L. View of George Mason University to a crowd of approximately 100 Cornell students, faculty and administrative members yesterday in Martha Van Rensselaer. “We thought rocket scientists knew everything, until a few months ago when Pluto was demoted from its planetary status, and now we have eight planets. How are we going to teach our kids to remember the order of the planets?” she continued. “By telling them ‘Many Very Educated Men Seem Uneducated Now.’”
View’s lecture, “And Justice for All: A Diversity Blueprint for Education Issues,” was the 15th Flemmie Kittrell Address, a speech given as a tribute to Flemmie Kittrell, the first African American in the United States to receive a PhD in home economics, and the first African American woman to receive a PhD in any field at Cornell University.
In her speech, View addressed the complex and controversial topic of diversity in the context of physical science, social science and current educational institutions such as Cornell.
“Dr. View presented an integrative argument on how individuals can make an impact on diversity in Cornell University and their larger social networks,” said Jessica Intravia ’08.
As she presented both a formal lecture and instigated informal discussion amongst audience members, View offered analysis of the diminishing amount of diversity in the world, and then provided a seven-step plan for how people could reverse this trend in their lifetime to benefit not only themselves but generations to come.
View introduced diversity by claiming, “Living in this world can look a lot like playing the zero-sum game,” in which a limited number of resources must be distributed among a set number of individuals.
“In the long run, however, there is plenty to go around. We can be mature, share what we have and figure out how to make more,” she said.
“We must work through our fears because we have no choice,” she said. View said that although many people like the idea of diversity, most are uncertain of how to actually “do diversity.”
After presenting a number of concerns that people have with diversity, including that it promotes tokenism, is too expensive, takes too long and that it is too overwhelming in scope to conquer, she offered a number of life strategies that people could adopt in order to “move in the direction of becoming a model of diversity,” both at the individual and organizational levels.
Firstly, she claimed that one should adopt cultural competence — interpersonal skills that include listening and behaving without imposing one’s own values on others, asking about things which one doesn’t know, and engaging in self-critique or personal reflection. Next, she suggested that organizations should compose an industrial audit system which would formulate an inventory of what has already been done to ensure the presence of diversity in an organization, and how to address any gaps in diversity if they do exist. Thirdly, one must create a vision or plan for diversity — a statement of overall intent in which one would organize goals, formulate what success would look like, and figure out how outcomes of actions could be measured.
The fourth step involves an organization’s investment in diversity. This would include specific business decisions concerning the allocation of funding to programs that promote diversity. She cited examples such as providing diversity training and domestic partner benefits to employees, implementing non-discriminatory policies concerning employee sexual and gender orientations, and creating company-wide diversity research groups.
View then added that it is important to always “leave an open seat” and ask, “Who is missing from this decision-making table?” One should not only create a welcoming space for those who are obviously missing, but also should “leave a metaphorical seat for those one doesn’t yet know who are missing.” Her sixth step included being an active ally against oppression everywhere in both the institutional and personal settings, for example, by boycotting or protesting goods that are produced by people suffering from oppression. Finally, she encouraged her audience to never give up.
“[Implementing diversity into life] is a long process that doesn’t end any time soon. It never ends, and it becomes part of everyday life, like brushing your teeth,” she said.
As Lisa Staiano-Coico, dean of the College of Human Ecology, said, “Dr. View can help us think about how institutions like Cornell can better pursue issues in the world like diversity and openness.” View’s concluding point addressed how Cornell can improve diversity among its students, staff, and faculty. At the employee level, View suggested that the University recruit from a larger cross-section of the local workforce. At the faculty level, she urged professors to “integrate diversity into curriculum, research, teaching, and extension work.” She even suggested that as “the institution reflects its faculty,” efforts should be taken to have a faculty body more representative of different sects of the world population.
“Dr. View’s presentation was both relevant and important in promoting increased diversity on campus and in the greater community,” said Maddie Sterling ’08.
When View ended her lecture by saying, “diversity means being an ally against oppression, even when you think you stand alone,” she offered an optimistic view of diversity’s potential to become fully immersed in the youth of today, and the generations of tomorrow.