As diversity, equity, and inclusion become increasingly prominent at UNL I am prompted to recall Chancellor Green’s remark following the death of George Floyd, and in recognition of the ongoing selective brutality perpetrated against people of color in our society. Chancellor Green reminded us that, “we cannot simply acknowledge the situation with sadness and move on..we must take real steps to address racial inequities and a history of exclusion [and] we must take them now.”
What has impressed me at UNL, has been the work undertaken at all stages and by individuals from every corner of the university. This feels genuinely different to several organizations I have worked in where much was said, and little was done. UNL has been different; the commitment to policy and direction at the most senior levels of the university administration; the implementation of those policies at School, College, and Center levels; the willingness of instructors in departments, deep in the weeds of teaching in COVID-world, to ask what practical measures can be taken to ensure Canvas courses reflect a more inclusive, diverse, and fair learning environment. These are just few examples of the work occurring daily across the university at every level.
Race is what got us here, and I am reminded of the black feminist activist Audre Lorde’s observation on the subject: “Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all. This results in a voluntary isolation or false and treacherous connections. Either way, we do not develop tools for using human difference as a springboard for creative change within our lives.”
What is so interesting to me about this quote is that it encourages us not to see diversity as a problem to be fixed, or as something we can draw a veil over with rhetoric, but as a springboard for creativity that might set us on the path to those inclusive communities to which we all aspire. As Lorde says, “without community, there is no liberation.”
All of us who have experienced community in the teaching space (as students or instructors) can testify to its transformative power. In my own case I was fortunate enough to observe Michael Boyd’s work with his ensemble at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford-upon-Avon then apply his methods to the curriculum at the University of Warwick. It may seem odd to celebrate diversity and inclusion via a reference to an Elizabethan dramatist and a theater company not famed for the diversity of its audiences, yet I emerged from this experience as an advocate for the suspension of hierarchies in the service of the benefits of collaboration, the co-creation of knowledge, the belief that in an inclusive environment failure can equate to learning, and the idea that if we strive to hear and recognize voices other than our own any group can become greater than the sum of its parts.
Lorde’s title implies that the ‘Master’s House’ is immune from dissolution instigated from outside. This remains true, I think, and I’m reminded of the injunction of the Black Card Collective, that “inclusion is not the only response–or best–response to exclusion, if inclusion means, as it must, fitting in to what is already in place.”If, however, we reinvent our policies and processes from within, as the RSC did and as we are doing at UNL, perhaps we can dismantle those parts of our own institution that have been closed historically.
We have begun our own process through our policy decisions, and a growing willingness to recognize then celebrate diversity as a creative phenomenon. And the tremendous energy of the university is already being focused to dismantle barriers, find mutually meaningful connections through open collaborations, and to create communities of diversity. We at the CTT recognize that there is, of course, much left to do and that complacency and empty rhetoric are real enemies, but we are committed to follow the path of diversity, equity and inclusion in a hopeful, humble, and respectful spirit.
We wish everyone at UNL happy holidays.
Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984), 271.
The RSC recognized that there was a creative, a business, and a moral case to be made, and altered their policies and actions accordingly: rsc.org.uk/about-us/policies/equality-inclusion-and-diversity