by Zac Gordon, Guest Writer, April 2021
On Thursday, November 5, I was proud to lead my Nobles’ community in the Anti Defamation League’s (ADL) March Against Hate. Following the march, classmates and faculty expressed that they appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to creating a more tolerant community. Since literally taking a step toward accomplishing this broad goal, it is appropriate for us to ask how we, the Nobles community, can amplify the administration’s work to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, and maintain the fight against hate at school and beyond.
The Nobles’ DEI mission statement is a good place to start: our school seeks to foster a sense of “belonging, respect, recognition, value and confidence.” To get there, I believe we have to actively work toward what the Harvard Business Review (HBR) calls “acquired diversity.” Acquired diversity involves traits gained from experiences and interactions with other people, unlike “inherent diversity”, which refers to “traits you are born with” and can more easily recruit for, such as ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. Acquired diversity is achieved through exposure to other people’s perspectives, which occurs with cultural exposure, work experiences, education, political discourse, and travel. The HBR explains that companies with both types of diversity out-innovate and out-perform those without. Applying these same principles to Nobles can lead to enhanced innovation and productivity, and more importantly, can help us combat the instinct to hate what we don’t understand. For our Nobles community to maximize its leadership potential, we must strive for both inherent and acquired diversity.
To accomplish this, we need to foster a “speak up” culture that creates opportunities to have conversations about our differences; we need to engage in deliberate, deep, and meaningful discourse, provide space to ask questions, and maintain a desire to learn about each other. The events of this past year have revealed just how much we do not know and understand about each other, even when we see each other in the hallways, play on the same teams, and sit in classes together everyday.
During the past summer of protests, the Black@Nobles accounts shattered the silence of so many students of color, enabling me and many other white students to hear some of these stories for the first time. While these kinds of experiences are often shared within affinity groups, there are few opportunities for diverse perspectives and personal narratives to be shared broadly. It is critical to continue fostering a “speak up” culture where everyone feels valued and can share authentic, diverse perspectives without fear outside of affinity groups. I want to thank those who reached beyond the boundary of their affinity group to share their experiences, because it enabled me to expand my own perspectives and it enriched our community.
We need more of this vulnerability and bravery. Reaching beyond affinity groups does not aim to undermine the importance of these spaces; affinity groups are critical on campus to connect members of a shared identity, and many important conversations are happening within these groups today. Mr. DeLeon, Nobles Co-Director of DEI explains that affinity spaces are “necessary because either through overt actions by some or subtle messaging, some people do not always feel welcomed… Inherent diversity is a lived one, one you can’t leave behind (nor should you)… affinity spaces are essential for those who feel the daily impact of inherent diversity.” These groups are essential, and to further empower the ideas shared in affinity groups, the community must provide opportunities for those who would like to share their perspectives and stories with a broader audience. Harnessing the potential of our community is not possible if we are unable to share with each other. What would this look like?
The ADL offers a model in the form of its annual Passover Seders where people from different faiths and backgrounds unite to break bread together and to share stories of their people’s transcendence from slavery to freedom. I propose bringing this idea to Nobles in the form of community dinners twice a semester during which anyone in the community is encouraged to share their personal stories, perspectives, traditions, and beliefs, while also asking and answering questions that enable deep, meaningful understanding. By choosing to share our journeys, we will no longer just look diverse, but we will truly experience diversity and its benefits.
Looking to the future, Nobles can further this process by welcoming programs like the ADL’s Peer Training. This program, run in schools throughout the world, trains students to lead action against prejudice in their school communities. I have a vision that my peers and I, including leaders of affinity groups, can come together and facilitate conversations that help our community become fully inclusive.
Now is the time to build an open, empathetic community that enables for sharing and leads us to learning. Celebrating and accepting differences is essential to enriching our community. I challenge us to take the next step and find out.
Image courtesy of http://www.adl.org.