Diversity and Inclusion and Every Laurentian
As the Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at St. Lawrence, Kimberly Flint-Hamilton talks about those two words with confident clarity:
“Diversity simply refers to any community where people differ from one another,” she says. “And diversity without inclusion doesn’t work. At St. Lawrence, we see an inclusive community as one where all members feel safe, known, respected, valued, and understood.”
These descriptions are part of what she calls the “toolkit” everyone can use to talk about their differences and get comfortable with them. As people begin talking about these topics, one of the more common questions is “Who is ‘diverse?’”
“We’re talking about everyone,” she says, “and the great variety of experiences and backgrounds people have before they come to join our community. Much of the diversity we’re working on is social identity diversity. Some of these identities are based on sex, gender, race or ethnicity, belief, socio-economic status, and the list goes on, including mental health and disability.”
Around 15 percent of St. Lawrence students use the University’s Student Accessibility Services. Making the campus and all its resources accessible to all students is part of maintaining an environment that values and welcomes differences. Flint-Hamilton also works with faculty to continue adding new perspectives to the University’s curriculum.
“We try to attract a more diverse pool of candidates for faculty positions,” she says. “Many professors are looking for a university that values a diverse curriculum, where perspectives from various identity groups are taught in classrooms and are part of research agendas. That can include research focusing on the impact of climate change on under-served or under-represented populations, exploring public health for these groups, questions of justice and representation in the social contract, and the list goes on.”
This is the kind of meaningful research that explores our shared humanity, she adds. Faculty members want to pursue this kind of scholarship because it can change how we see our world—and each other.
“It’s important to point out that people who share any identity are not all the same,” she says. “No one believes the people of any group think or behave in the same way. Each individual’s perspective is shaped and changed by age, geography, socio-economics, and many other factors.”
The best way to explore the world, she adds, and understand its complexities, is to look at it from as many different perspectives as possible. To help Laurentians do this, she’s developed a road map.
The Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan
This plan focuses on five themes:
• Cultivate an inclusive community for everybody.
• Expand the members of people from under-represented identity groups in our community, faculty, staff, and students.
• Foster a commitment to creating an inclusive environment for everybody.
• Infuse a value of inclusion into our curricular and co-curricular programming—make sure diverse voices are represented.
• Connect groups across difference.
“A lot of this work is already happening,” Flint-Hamilton says. “Faculty, staff, and students are doing these things. Diversity and inclusion are values we share. The plan is designed to help every Laurentian put them into action.”
She acknowledges there are hurdles to overcome.
“People can be uncomfortable talking about diversity in general, and race or sexuality, in particular,” she says. “I get it. If you’ve reached this moment in your life without thinking much about diversity or living in a world where your identity is perceived as a threat, you’re likely to feel stunned, at the very least or even defensive, when these topics come up.”
This can lead to a kind of paralysis, she adds. Someone in this situation may simply not know what to do and avoid these issues, effectively silencing themselves.
“They’re afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing, seem uninformed, or offend someone. There can be repercussions, so I understand the fear, I really do. But now is not the time for fear, now is the time to figure these things out.”
St. Lawrence, she says, is the right place to do this. The University has always placed the highest value on questions asked in good faith.
“Figure out your own identity and how you feel about it. Think about how your identity is strengthened by others, even if they’re very different. Then, practice talking about these things with others and see how they feel. That’s how you begin.”
Don’t worry about making mistakes, she says. Everyone does, especially at first. “Make the effort and people will know you’re trying, that you’re working on finding and building community. Because the things we can achieve—learning, solving big problems, connecting with each other, and growing this community—these are the things that bring us together. And these are the reasons you bring different ways of understanding and different kinds of ideas to the table. When you have that diversity and that inclusive environment, anything is possible.”
Support for Diversity and Inclusion at St. Lawrence
These on-campus efforts received nearly $50,000 during our Growing Forward Challenge that ran June 29-30.
Donors to St. Lawrence can now add their support to expand this work. Contributions to diversity and inclusion can be used for a number of initiatives across campus, including:
• The Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Across Laurentians (IDEAL) Initiative
• Promoting involvement in the Laurentian network so it represents the diversity of the St. Lawrence community (this initiative expands Laurentian events, networking opportunities, and mentoring opportunities to support students of diversity on-campus)
• Diversity and Inclusion trainings across campus
• The University’s expanded bias incident education program and reporting process
• A range of events and discussions hosted by the Office of Diversitymand Inclusion
• Local, off-campus events that can play a pivotal role in creating a more inclusive North Country
To make a positive impact on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at St. Lawrence, please email University Advancement at email@example.com.