I believe our future as educators, students, artists, and human beings relies on: inclusivity, active listening, diversity, cooperation, collaboration, and mindful conversations.
Diversity can be a great many things. It can be interpreted and understood in a great many ways. I think first we need to be willing to “hear others into speech” and “to think with our minds descended into our hearts” (Parker J. Palmer). Diversity comes in many forms: ethnic heritage, race, and religion. Our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are shaped by the things we have learned and experienced.
It takes time to become aware of how we perceive the world around us. It involves how we see ourselves, others, everyone, and everything. However, it really starts with reflection, introspection, and contemplation. This can lead to even better and richer conversations whether in the classroom or in the world.
Throughout my academic career I have worked side by side and hand in hand with folks from all walks of life. Whether they are students, faculty, staff, artists and/or visitors to the galleries I have worked at or classrooms and studios I have worked in, I always strive to treat people like people and as I would like to be treated.
While working and teaching in the midwest I have been aware of the social, racial, political, gender, economic, and mental/health biases that have existed and still exist. I have always done my best to hear other’s thoughts into speech and treat people with respect, kindness, honesty, and most of all integrity.
COVID-19 has reinforced my understanding of the social and economic disparity in the midwest. In March of 2020, Northern State University mandated “at-a-distance education” for the remainder of the semester. This decision left a number of the school’s under-served students woefully without resources. A lot of students did not have access to the technology, both hardware or software, that would allow them to gain as much as their more fortunate classmates. Others who learn best from true face-to-face education had to make do with phone and zoom conversations (if their technology allowed).
I begin every new class by observing the students to see where they are in their own journeys as artists and people. I do not teach a particular “style” that they must follow, but I support the growth of their own unique styles. I do this regardless of whether I am in a traditional face-to-face classroom setting or conducting an educational experience at-a-distance. I always talk with my students and work with them individually and as a group to see, hear, and understand where they are, where they were, and where they hope to be and together we decide how I can best help them on their journeys.
When I consider diversity I am reminded of what a dear friend, Earl Bitoy, believed. He always said, “Each person is uniquely gifted and talented. It is my job, as a teacher, to recognize each person’s gifts and talents and champion them.” Earl’s words resonate with me each time I write a syllabus, plan a lesson, step into a classroom or a gallery.
Diversity can open one up to new ideas, concepts, thoughts, contradictions, and even profound truths. This is one of the many strengths we find in the classroom. Here we are exposed to differing modes of thoughts, beliefs, processes, concepts, and ideas.
I believe that when we come together mindfully, it is our unique diversity that allows for the greatest growth in ourselves, our students, and everyone.