“Do people really think about diversity?”
Hold a Conversation
In addition to the questions below, please see How to use the questions for reflection.
- What experiences made the speaker feel cared for?
- What does the speaker mean by sun-down town, and why do you think he shares that story? What is he trying to communicate?
- Since the speaker doesn’t feel uncomfortable being “the only person there,” why does that experience concern him?
- What does the speaker mean when he says not everyone will want a mentor?
- The speaker ends by saying, “In trying to be equal, we don’t make statements that let the minorities know that we want them here, that we see them as valuable, and we see them moving forward.” What does he mean “in trying to be equal?”
- Why do you think minorities would need to know “we want them here and see them as valuable?”
- How do we show people they are valued?
- If an institution were to take the speaker’s advice, does that imply white staff and faculty would feel less valued? Why/why not?
- Do you agree with the speaker that it’s “not good” that a student could leave a university without knowing an African-American instructor – if the student were White? Black? an international student? Why/why not?
us know how the conversation or self-reflection went. Email us or discuss the experience in our comment box.
Transcript for I’m the Only Person There
My wife and I drove down to Valpo on a Saturday afternoon in the fall. Drove on campus and—quietest place—nobody was around. But you know, I’m from very humble beginnings so it didn’t bother me. But when I came for the interview, the people were so nice and everything that it was a great place, and…you know, I came in December of ’96 and in August of ’97 I had a stroke, and my family had just moved here, and of course my wife’s wondering what is she going to do, but the people were so great during that period of time. And I think that’s what you find about Valparaiso is that it’s a very caring place.
I would describe [Valpo] to someone that was thinking of moving [here] as a regular college town. The diversity is not great here; however, there’s equal opportunities for everyone. I think in the seventeen years I’ve been here you’ve seen the diversity improve and increase. I think Valpo has—Valparaiso the city—has a name that… An example: when we first moved here, [my] family went to—we were in Merrillville, and I used my credit card and they asked me my address and I said ‘Valparaiso,’ and they said, ‘You don’t live in Valpo.’ I said ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘No, you don’t. We don’t live in Valpo.’
You know, Valparaiso has the name that it was a ‘sundown town.’ And blacks were not in Valpo after sundown, and people in Lake County had an impression that Valpo wasn’t a welcoming city for African Americans.
I would describe the student body as probably not yet proportional to society, but we are moving in more…definitely a more diverse student body than we were seventeen years ago. Staff-wise, we have made improvements also. I am concerned because as I look at faculty, we have the same number that we had seventeen years ago, especially with African American faculty.
There are meetings that I sit in on campus now when I’m—maybe I’m not uncomfortable, but I look around the table and I’m the only person there. And, you know, that’s been my life for the last forty-five years, probably, since I’ve been a professional. And, you know, there were times when my wife and I…you know, we’ve been to many events and social functions when we were one of the few African Americans there.
In order to retain students, we’re going to have to have a place where they feel comfortable, where there are things that they can do and they can have mentors that they can relate to, if they want to. Everyone will not want to. But when they…they could go through a career without knowing an African American instructor, then that’s…that’s not good.
Do people really think about diversity when it comes to assignments and promotions, or do they just see this person as an instructor?
You know, in trying to be equal, I feel that we don’t make statements that let the minorities know that we want them here, [that] we see them as valuable employees and we see them moving forward.