On Diversity: A Quality Worth Celebrating

Webster’s dictionary defines diversity as “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas” or “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.” As we begin the final week of Black History Month, it is worth reflecting on what the quality of diversity means for Middle Georgia State University.

Education takes us out of our comfort zones, or should. It leads us out of familiar places and into growth—otherwise, it is not education. A university is, as I have shared with you numerous times on our journey to becoming one, a plurality of ideas.

And here, at Middle Georgia State, where three of our four core values—Engagement, Adaptability, and Learning—necessarily take us out of our comfort zones, diversity is in the very fabric of who we are.

Our value of engagement, if done for the purpose of learning, calls us to engage with the “other.” We are called to learn from and respect those with whom we differ, whether those differences come in the form of appearance, background, ability or opinion.

This is particularly so at a public university—where we are stewards of the public good and the public square. Today, every bit as much as in ancient times, the public square is the marketplace of ideas. The quality of the debate in that square is one to which we can, and should contribute.

And while voice matters, so does ear. Listening is often far more demanding and important than speaking. Or, in the words of the Dalai Lama, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

Too often our societyand our campuseshave become places where we have been shy of robust, honest dialogue or even worse places of shouting and not listening.  The challenge of higher education, and Middle Georgia State, is to provide a “third way” environment where our identities and voices are engaged and enriched by encounter with others, whose identities and voices will properly differ in many ways from our own.  Education requires this encounter, and our task is to enable it for each generation.  Only then will our society, and our professions, truly be part of a learning, global family that can address the challenges of the 21st century.