Miscellaneous thoughts on Diversity, Inclusion, and Academia

I’m sitting in an airplane flying over the Mediterranean Sea on my way to another short, but sweet adventure in Portugal. Left in my wake are 10 spectacular days in Italy –Rome and Florence specifically

For those of you who don’t know, my trip to Rome was sponsored by an anonymous donation to the University of San Diego Center for Catholic Thought and Culture. The donor wanted to provide USD faculty an annual opportunity to travel abroad and learn about Catholicity as it relates to different geographic contexts and social issues Last year’s group traveled to the Dominican Republic and focused on issues related to environmental sustainability. This year’s theme focused on diversity, inclusion, and interculturation. While I have other blog entries written, I wanted to share some questions and ideas that are running through my mind right now.

When I first applied to the program, I did so with a healthy sense of skepticism, after all, work related to diversity and inclusion are embattled, contentious, and at times superficial. This isn’t an indictment of my university specifically, but it is a statement of fact as it relates to the very real work that occurs in higher education. If we simply open up the newspaper or turn on the news we find attacks on diversity related curriculum at every level of education, and legislative initiatives that make what I teach and research at worst illegal and at best “irrelevant.” Unfortunately, there are many who are either too afraid, or too lazy to engage in the work necessary to talk meaningfully about race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and disability in substantive ways. They’re afraid of facing head on the constructive criticism, or develop a strategy and vision for change. They fixate on numbers, and forget that real change isn’t just about numbers but how people treat one another everyday. Realistically, they are afraid to spend time reflecting on identifying privilege in their own lives and committing themselves towards a more sophisticated form of personal growth. In truth, many of these things are difficult for us to do in our daily lives, let alone in the context of our roles within a bureaucracy.

As a sociologist with interdisciplinary training in American/Ethnic Studies, I often take for granted that while “difference” (broadly defined) is a normative part of the research and teaching that we do, this is not true in other areas. During our immersion trip, I found myself both fascinated and appalled by the idea that privilege, power, race and gender have made very little entre into theological and religious studies. My surprise is not because of any familiarity I have with that field, but rather, the simple fact that the people I know best within my university actively address these issues. When I read chapters, or discussed ideas with them, I never realized that the work they do was met with such skepticism (and at times vitriol), or that there was even an argument within their field that diversity matters. I know—this isn’t a very scientific way of coming to any conclusions about a field of study that examines thousands of years of history, ideology, morals, values and ethics, but it’s real.

In all seriousness though, if religion is the opiate of the masses, the cornerstone for how hundreds of millions of people structure their moral and ethical approach to the world, isn’t it just a little scary that diversity is such a ‘new’ issue in a discipline that’s so old? Just a thought and reminder. There is work that’s left to do.

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