Grand Valley State University
In January 2014 Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, renowned diversity consultant and President and Founder of the Washington Consulting Group – a Multicultural Organizational Development Firm, gave the keynote speech at the 7th annual MLK day event at Western Oregon University (click here to watch). With the topic being Martin Luther King’s Dream, there was an expectation that this would be a reiteration of the same tenets we hear every year in January; what Dr. King’s points were, what those points meant, and how far we have come since that time.
The main focus of the keynote however, was personalizing your vision. Noting that Dr. King had a vision, not just for himself, but for his family and children that fueled his dream. Dr. Rev. Washington calls us to examine our visions; are they inclusive or do they focus on our own personal pains? While Rev. Dr. Washington doesn’t discourage viewers from advocating for their causes and identities, he warns that activism and advocacy is not an “either/or” and that everyone’s passions may be different. He in turn encourages us to think about the areas we have privilege just as much as the areas we are disenfranchised.
Rev. Dr. Washington’s point brings to question several aspects of Higher Education; do faculty and staff have an obligation to be nonbiased or can we personalize our efforts? Does staff feel safe participating in activism? Additionally, are faculty, staff, or even students really able to have honest conversation about what their schools portray in terms of inclusiveness and what is the reality of their experience? Finally, he noted that attending diversity related events or placing a sticker on your office door is not the same as advocacy, activism, or inclusion.
Rev. Dr. Washington’s ended his speech on focusing intention vs impact. He asked that we remember that while intentions may be good, impacts don’t change. This is an important reminder for Higher Education and Student Affairs professionals as we move beyond a surface level commitment to diversity and towards making sure everyone’s voice is heard. Because, as Rev. Dr. Washington noted, “We cannot wish a change into place, we have to work to make it happen.”