cultural-diversity1

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed by President Johnson because underrepresented individuals, particularly in the south, were not allowed to vote (The United States Department of Justice).  Violence and intimidation prevented these individuals from exercising their constitutional rights as ratified in the 15th amendment of the US Constitution on February 3, 1870 (The Library of Congress, 2012).  This historical reality set the backdrop for a book I chose to read for Black History Month entitled, Freshwater Road  by Denise Nicholas.  In this book, a 20-year-old woman from Detroit decides to go down to the deep south in Mississippi to help with voter registration for African Americans.  For me, the overriding theme in the book is courage.  The author has the ability to make the reader feel, to the degree one can through reading, what it is like to walk in the front door of the courthouse to register to vote only to be confronted with a sheriff whose “laws” are based on fear and hate.  While the constitution gave her and others the right to vote, state and local Jim Crow laws prevented her from walking through the front door of the courthouse. 

I’ve been wearing a button on the lapel of my jackets that says, “I support Black History Month.”  These are not just words to me.  While this is Black History Month, I believe every month is social justice month.  I can provide a few examples from the past few weeks of how beliefs have been put into action.  At the EHHS accepted students day, a parent came up to me after the presentations and said his family had traveled to many college open houses and had seen many presentations.  He stated that our presentation was the best he had seen.  In addition to academic excellence in a supportive environment, one of the prominent themes throughout the presentation was the importance of diversity at SUNY Plattsburgh.  Preparing students to live and work in a diverse society was highlighted.  I talked about EHHS Shared Values with the audience and highlighted our commitment to being multiculturally competent.  I stated that we believed in our students being multiculturally competent and that it started with professors and staff being multiculturally competent.  Admissions staff spoke about the richness of diversity on our campus.  The diverse panel of students gave specific examples of how diversity on our campus has enriched their lives.  Values and experiences discussed during the presentation are in alignment with a statement by Stith-Williams and Haynes (2007), “Education cannot be divorced from its connection to emerging multicultural dynamics that shape the context of society in general and public education in particular.”

Beliefs have been put into action recently when speaking with diverse job candidates about the value SUNY Plattsburgh places on diversity.  Candidates were heartened by the commitment we have to multicultural competency in our shared values.  These individuals also were impressed that one of the goals in the college’s new strategic plan targets being multiculturally competent.  I talked about the success of our Education Opportunity Program and about findings in a national study by Nguyen, Wardbibo, and Engle, (2012) that places SUNY Plattsburgh as 21st in the nation for closing the gap between the graduation rates of African American students and white students; while both have improved over the past six years, graduation rates are now higher for African American students compared to white students.  

My life has been and continues to be enriched by the diversity of those around me.  Given this, I make sure there are many diverse people around me who feel free to point out gaps in my thinking.  While this blog has focused on one aspect of diversity due to a central topic of Black History Month, I honor diversity in its broad from.  A statement from the Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion’s frequentl asked quesions webpage say is best:  “Is diversity only for people of color?   Answer: Yes, because all people have color!  When diversity initiatives only address the realities of one group, then they becom exclusionary and limiting.  We need all people understanding that no one awakens truly understanding everyone else’s reality.  A true understanding of other people’s reality is only arrived at through conversation and interaction” (Wiley, J.W. 2013).

I look forward to our conversations and interactions in the weeks to come.  May we each know courage that positively transforms the world for others and deepens knowledge of the self.

References

The Library of Congress. (2012). Primary documents in American History: 15th amendment to the Constitution. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/15thamendment.html

Nguyen, M., Wardbibo, E., & Engle, J. (2012).  Advancing to completion: Increasing degree attainment by improving graduation rates and closing gaps for African-American students. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/YkGSIt  (See page 13)

Nicholas, D. (2005). Freshwater road. New York, NY: Pocket Star Books

Stith-Williams, V., & Haynes, P. (2007). FOR CULTURAL COMPETENCE: Knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to embrace diversity. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/a3ogoxe

The United States Department of Justice (n.d.). The Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/intro/intro_b.php

Wiley, J.W. (2013). Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion. Retrieved from http://www.plattsburgh.edu/studentlife/diversity/cdpi/faqs.php

Image (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2013 from: http://blog.iese.edu/expatriatus/files/2012/12/cultural-diversity1.jpg