For those of us working in higher education, it is not enough to say that diversity is the spice of life. In the context of a university community, the idea of diversity is better expressed as the essence of life. Diverse outlooks stand at the very center of the educational experience and are deeply embedded in the telos of the university, which aims to provide an enlarging experience to its students and faculty – one that transcends the more parochial nature of the home and the community. It goes without saying that we are more fully formed and better prepared to learn and to serve when we are exposed to a culture of competing ideas and wide-ranging outlooks.
I am proud to acknowledge that last fall, our College’s DEI committee (along with student leaders) played an especially prominent role in influencing historic changes to the atmosphere of diversity and inclusion on our campus. The committee took on the cause of petitioning the University’s Board of Trustees to rename two academic buildings affiliated with the College of Education. The committee’s good efforts, spearheaded by Professors Sara McDaniel and Matt Curtner-Smith, were eventually rewarded. The College could now point to Wade Hall, named in honor of Dr. Archie Wade, the first African-American appointed to a faculty position at The University of Alabama, and to Autherine Lucy Hall, in honor of Autherine Lucy, the first African-American to attend The University of Alabama (whose image is on the cover of this publication). These two events represented a powerful moment in our history, bringing with them renewed hope for a new future inscribed by the lessons learned from the past.
Our commitment to diversity has also found expression in other forms. The College houses, for instance, the Alabama Adapted Athletics program, which includes a women’s basketball team, a men’s basketball team, as well a tennis team for both men and women. The College is also the home to the CrossingPoints program that teaches high school-aged students with cognitive disabilities important life skills. Recently, we expanded the program with a residential program dedicated to the education of college-aged people with cognitive disabilities. And although we admit to needing to be better at recruiting and retaining a fully diverse faculty, we could still boast about a good number of international scholars on our faculty (about 15%) as well as several faculty members who are in chairs, and who otherwise demonstrate a great and varied range of differences across varied identities. We have efforted to strike a chord for a cosmopolitan community that aims to widen the sights and experiences of everyone who comes to our doors.
A commitment to a diversity of place is a defining trope for a university that sees open discussion, freedom of inquiry, independent judgment, and the latitude to vigorously contest ideas. Our faith is to create a universe of discourse where disagreements exist in the context of civility, and where the protester’s veto (efforts to shut down speech) has little warrant. We live and learn together in a diverse community with a shared commitment to forging a common understanding, especially among those with whom we disagree.
Peter Hlebowitsh, Dean