Yes We Must: Achieve Diversity through Leadership

02/05/2009 7:30 AM Walker Morss HallDr. Susan Hockfield, President, MIT; Johnnetta B. Cole, Chair, Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion InstituteDescription: Two "sisters" -- both university chiefs -- celebrate the victory of the first African"American U.S. President, but remind listeners that American institutions have not yet achieved the full measure of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream.

MIT, which prides itself on inventing the future, says Susan Hockfield, must stop looking backwards and "make diversity and inclusion a daily reality." To fulfill these goals, says Hockfield, MIT is pursuing policy and practical change in such areas as retention, recruitment, climate, communication and accountability. For instance, candidate searches must move beyond sorting through known options, Hockfield states. She also notes that the steps required "in a very long journey" to build a culture of inclusion will not be threatened by budget pressures. Many actions cost nothing at all, she says: pairing up a new hire with a long"term employee "as a welcoming guide," and reaching out to student cultural and affinity groups, for instance. Department heads can check in with women and professors of color for the "cost of no more than an occasional cup of coffee." Concludes Hockfield, "Distributed leadership is the only path to success in building a culture of inclusion, because real progress in mentoring, reaching out, locating new talent, must happen step by step, unit by unit, in labs, offices and residence halls across all MIT."

"We are still such a mighty, might long way from being able to declare victory over bigotry and discrimination," says Johnetta B. Cole. Behind these twin evils stand people with power and privilege. Quoting Frederick Douglass, Cole cautions that such people 'concede nothing without a struggle.' So those in power must perceive a rewarding alternative: "We need to imagine and work toward making a world where difference doesn't make any more difference."

Even the most marginalized of us, says Cole, must locate in ourselves the power and privilege we do have, and expunge the temptation to victimize others. "Some white women who have been the victims of sexism can systematically practice racism," Cole points out, and "some black folk who have known the bitter sting of racism can be intensely homophobic" She asks her audience to "learn how you learned your prejudices and interrogate yourself around your particular journey around questions of diversity and inclusion." Own all parts of your identity, and "never again let anyone interact with you on the basis of one alone."

While she acknowledges MIT's work toward diversity, Cole says "that is not enough," and that each person must take personal responsibility "for helping to change this mighty institution." Her advice: make sure the curriculum moves away from "WWW:" western, white and womanless. No faculty or staff searches should move forward without a diverse pool of candidates. Real inclusion means not just recruiting a diverse class of students each and every year, but "creating an inclusive culture so students of color, or the LGBT community, students who are differently abled -- all the underrepresented groups -- can say this is myuniversity."
About the Speaker(s): Johnnetta B. Cole received her undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, and earned a Master's and Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University. Cole has had a long and distinguished career as an educator and humanitarian. After 20 years of service as a professor at three institutions of higher learning, Cole made history in 1987 by becoming the first African"American woman to serve as president of Spelman College in Atlanta. In 2002, Cole became the 14th president of Bennett College, the only other historically black college for women.
A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Anthropological Association, Cole has consistently addressed issues of racial and gender discrimination. Besides her work in higher education, Cole serves as a member of the board of directors for a number of organizations, including the Carter Center and the National Visionary Leadership Project. In addition to 50 honorary degrees, Cole has received numerous awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award, the Dorothy I. Height Dreammaker Award and the Radcliffe Medal.
Cole broke yet another barrier in May 2004 by becoming the first African"American to serve as chair of the board of United Way of America. In addition to her academic duties, Dr. Cole has served on the board of Directors of Home Depot, Merck & Co., Inc., NationsBank South and was the first woman ever elected to the Board of Coca"Cola Enterprises.
Host(s): Office of the President, MIT Annual Breakfast Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


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