Gumbo Reflections

I finished Rupert Nacoste’s book, Making Gumbo in the University. On the one hand, UNC-Chapel Hill is far ahead of the situation he described at the university he was helping to diversify. For example, we track diversity statistics (at least, for those characteristics that can be measured), and we conduct regular climate surveys, something he had great difficulty doing. On the other hand, he found many barriers that were part of higher education culture and much more subtle and difficult to overcome. We probably share some of those.

At one point, Nacoste brought to campus William Leftwich, who had led President Clinton’s initiative on Race. Leftwich addressed a forum on campus.

The dynamic change of a community is right here — not in government or the White House. But there is no pill we can take tonight and wake up in the morning and everything will be OK. This is a project; this is something we have to deal with every single day… (p. 195).

That message is a good one. Enabling greater diversity is a process and a project. As Nacoste pointed out, too often, universities are looking for a quick fix when they take on diversity.

I agree with what Nacoste says about diversity in the universities — that in the end, it’s about creating a richer, more vibrant climate.

Although the push for diversity in higher education began with attempts to deal with the problems of segregation and discrimination, the truth is that the need for diversity is cooked into the mission of doctorate-granting institutions. Diversity of experience is, of course, a complex matter, discrimination still exists. Race, gender and ethnicity are still significant, although not the one-and-only determinants of experience in America. So, universities have multiple reasons to work hard to have a diverse student body. But if truthful to their mission, the primary motivation for seeking authentic diversity among students and faculty would be creating a vibrant, intellectual, idea-generating campus culture, (p 214-215).

Please go to www.makinggumbo.com for more by Nacoste.

Unless there is vegetarian gumbo, it’s not my food, but gumbo, as in a rich, complex, varied roux of people — that kind of gumbo I can get behind!

Happy Monday!

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