Diversity.

8 Jun

Diversity.  I wonder what you think of when you hear that word.  It is a well used word in public life, especially in public institutional life and particularly in public academic institutions.

Diversity.  I wonder what your campus’s official definition of diversity states.  In the place I work, a downtown community college in a Midwest city with 24,000 students (more or less) plus another 6,000 faculty, staff and administrators, this is what the Diversity Plan says:

“Diversity refers to the individual and group social differences that exist among people. It means understanding that each individual is unique and by recognizing these individual differences and similarities, we add to the richness and texture of the educational experience. These can be along various human dimensions, including but not limited to: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation/gender identity/expression, socio‐economic status, age, disabilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, cultural perspectives, other ideologies, veteran status, and country of origin.

The concept of diversity at Sinclair Community College encompasses the acceptance, inclusiveness, engagement, and mutual respect among students, faculty, staff, administrators, and members of the broader community. Honoring diversity requires a system that represents, supports, and respects these dimensions. This system constructs policies, practices, and structures to prepare students to be successful within the college, local, regional, and global communities.”

Diversity.  I suspect we tend to think about diversity either from the perspective of being in a category of people who have been left out of the mainstream of social, economic, religious, political power and influence or from the perspective those who in power who then “include” others – using their power to do so.

Diversity.  I am more and more convinced, however, that we need to re-view this.  We need to view it more holistically.

First, if we are talking about inclusion we will have to include those with whom we really disagree.  In the case of many, that means including the most strictly conservative voices among us who might never include us! My personal biblical perspective for instance is not a literal reading of the biblical material.  I must, however, acknowledge, recognize and “include” those who do read the Bible literally as part of the diversity of human encounter with the Great Love of the Universe whose reality is far more expansive, flexible and generous than my own most of the time!

Further, if diversity is about “inclusion” then someone still holds the power to include.  That is still a top down decision from someone in power about those not in the circle of power.  Perhaps we need to find another measure for our commitment to diversity that goes beyond “inclusion” (letting people in) to a sense that we are not complete (Be “complete” – telios – as your God in heaven is “complete.”  Matthew 5:48) when anyone is missing from the table  – whether the table of sustenance, the table of communion/community, or the table of decision making.  This shift in perspective could make a big difference in the way we do “diversity.”

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Barbara Battin has been on of the Interfaith Campus Ministers at Sinclair Community College since 2002. Previously she served in congregational ministry at six Presbyterian churches in Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio as well as working in campus ministry at Kent State University and The College of Wooster. Currently a member of the Miami Presbytery, she convenes its Campus Ministry Network and is active in peacemaking programs in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Her other interests include the growing conversation between science and religion, interfaith dialogue, nonviolence education, spiritual formation, service learning, holistic health and healing, leading retreats and prayer groups. She has completed the Certificate Program for Group Leaders at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and English, a Master of Divinity degree, and Doctor of Ministry degree in spirituality

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One Response to “Diversity.”

  1. paul walley June 8, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Great insight, Barbara, about going beyond inclusiveness. Who said we
    are already “in”? I like the search for a more “inclusive” phrase or all-encompassing word! Let us know what you come up with please. Nice piece on diversity. You widened my parameters.

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