MeShawn Green, Inclusive Community Advocate
We know research supports the value of a diverse student body, and as our communities become more diverse, value for diversity must also be mirrored in our faculty, staff and administration. It is this diversity – diversity that includes race, gender, age, religion, veteran status, diverse generations, affectional orientation, nationality and more – that we strive for at the University of Central Oklahoma. However, this is just a part of the equation.
“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance,” says Verna Myers, Vice President of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix and Founder, The Verna Myers Company.
Diversity allows for different perspectives and ideas to be present. However, mere presence of diversity does not equate to inclusivity. Diversity provides an opportunity for new concepts, approaches and ideas; it is inclusion that allows for revolutionary and trailblazing advancement. Diversity is unable to accomplish its value if we do not create spaces where those ideas and different approaches are embraced.
Diversity cannot transcend to inclusion without a prepared environment. So how do we go from diversity to inclusion? How do we prepare our environment to embrace and promote diversity? We must have a genuine commitment to equity. This is where the real work begins, and the challenges occur. We must admit that everyone has not had the same experiences nor opportunities. We must then take a reflective and honest look at our perceptions and practices and how they enhance or hinder equity, and then, we must make the difficult, time-consuming decision to make a change.
During this next year, I look forward to working with our campus community to create plans to intentionally prepare our environment to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion. As a campus community, we will determine what our goals for diversity and inclusion are. How do we want our campus to “feel” for every member of our Central Community in terms of inclusivity? What experiences do we want our students, faculty and staff to have as Bronchos so that every idea is heard and every experience is valued? We then do the hard work of coordinating efforts and determining what changes need to occur to reach those goals.
As we start this journey, I am dedicated, and encourage the entire UCO community to also be dedicated, to exploring a personal commitment to equity and inclusion. Below are a few key points of inclusion, diversity and equity that can aid through this exploration.
Remember the key principles of diversity. Regardless of the topic, there are four key principles to embracing diversity and moving toward inclusivity – self-awareness, respect for the individual, accepting, recognizing, and appreciate differences, and resisting bias, assumptions, and stereotypes.
Be open and curious. Curiosity also underpins learning, which is the foundation of both personal and organizational progress. It is curiosity and the desire to learn that enacts change.
Look for learning opportunities. The more we learn, the more comfortable we are with having the discussion.
Ask questions. How are our daily actions and practices contributing to an environment where everyone feels safe, respected and valued? Are our practices hindering particular demographics, and do we need to consider new approaches? Is everyone’s story being told? To work toward environments of inclusivity and equity, we must ask the hard questions.
I am proud of the inclusion, diversity and equity work we have done at UCO. We stand at the forefront of many. We have created programs and practices that have been emulated across the state and the nation. I have no question that we truly strive to create environments of equity and inclusivity, and I look forward to working with our campus community to continue to strengthen our efforts.
MeShawn Green is the university’s inaugural Inclusive Community Advocate. She has served as the director of UCO’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion for more than 10 years. During her tenure, she has partnered with various stakeholders to create and support opportunities and programs designed to promote students’ success and the growth of their cultural competency. She has facilitated trainings and presented locally and nationally on the subjects of diversity, equity and inclusion. She currently is enrolled in a Ph.D. program in educational leadership and policy studies at Oklahoma State University and is a proud UCO alumna, earning her M.Ed. in adult education and a B.A. in corporate communication.