Meet the 2020 Committee for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
January 13, 2020
The 2020 Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) believes our diversity is our strength. As a way to share who we are and how we all come to DEI from different perspectives, the Committee believes it would be useful for each of us to share our own perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion with the broader membership. As you can see, we all come to the committee with different voices but focused on the DEI Committee’s charge as we continue our work.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about how diversity is understood and embraced in higher education. I find that all too often the ideal of “diversity” has shifted from being a goal one must pursue to simply a product that can be marketed in the hopes of attracting talented students, staff, and faculty. When my son was considering where to go for college this past year, most of the promotional materials he received featured photos of shiny, happy students in different diverse configurations. Also prominently featured were polished infographics boasting the school’s racial composition and other diversity metrics.
In my view, one should not reduce diversity to a numbers game. Diversity is more than just about representation. It is all too possible to have diverse representation within an organization and yet not really be diverse. All too often diversity has been relegated to the interpersonal realm. The catchwords are about “learning about one another” and “engaging difference” and “sharing stories.” However, embracing diversity is not just an exercise for personal growth. Honoring diversity means that we need to look at the dynamics of power and privilege that exist within institutions and society. To be asked to have a seat at the table in the spirit of diversity, and yet not really have a say in how the table and menu are set is not enough. We need to consciously cultivate an ethic of mutual care and respect where we can co-create our workspace and learning environment. Understanding how power and privilege function can help provide moral clarity to our commitments to diversity. As librarians working in theological education, we each have a level of pastoral accountability to do so.
To be asked to have a seat at the table in the spirit of diversity, and yet not really have a say in how the table and menu are set is not enough.Yasmine Abou-El-Kheir
I became conscious of DEI issues due to the fact that I am originally from outside North America, having lived in four different countries (South Korea, Australia, Canada, and the US) and attended five educational institutions in those nations. After getting my MLIS, I have worked for public, academic, and theological libraries in Canada and the States. Throughout my tenure with these organizations, I cannot help noticing a discrepancy between the increasing diversity of library users in its various forms and the libraries in terms of personnel, resources, and services. Unless critically self-examined and challenged, this gap tends to validate and perpetuate the dominant culture’s hegemony. Against this backdrop, I see DEI in theological libraries as an ongoing and active individual and structural engagement to critically re-examine current practices and actively reflect, affirm, and promote wonderful diversity already among us and around us.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion makes us stronger. Diversity, for me, is the broad range of categories we identify with: race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, political values, etc. Equity and inclusion offer chances for the community (however formulated) to hear the voices of those who are not the majority or are not a part of who they identify with. I hope that Atla’s DEI Committee can help the various members and potential members of Atla to hear voices they’ve not heard, feel empowered to actively seek them out, and welcome changes that may come from hearing voices that typically have not been heard.
When discussing diversity, the question of “privilege” often arises and gets tossed around in ways many do not fully understand. With any given person you meet, they will carry with them both privileged and underrepresented characteristics. With a privileged characteristic, you subscribe to that group that tells the dominant story, writes the history, and generally sets the normative. That’s the reason why there is no need for a Straight Pride Parade or White History Month. Members of these groups enjoy the dominant narrative on any given day. Therefore, when an underrepresented group has some type of event or day to honor their achievements, everyone, regardless of how they identify, should take notice. These are not private, off-limits events. The underrepresented group has a story to tell, yes, but it is incumbent on the privileged group to listen to that story and to understand.
We cannot choose certain characteristics such as race; while technically we can choose others, such as religion, these are not things the change rapidly or readily, not if we are, to be honest with ourselves and our neighbor. From the perspective of one who identifies with many privileged groups, my role when discussing diversity is to listen to the stories and others and learn from them. There are so many rich traditions beyond those that I subscribe to, but they aren’t going to find me by themselves. I must make the active decision to come to them. This is the role I see for myself in promoting a diverse environment: not becoming somebody else but taking in their experiences to enrich and energize my view of the world.
The underrepresented group has a story to tell, yes, but it is incumbent on the privileged group to listen to that story and to understand.David Kriegh
For me, diversity means understanding and recognizing that everyone is unique and different. It embraces all the elements that make people unique and different from one another such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religious beliefs, political parties, and so on. All of these aspects contribute to shaping our own unique and beautiful identities. Equality means that everyone is equal and having dignity and should be treated equally. Inclusion is opposite to exclusion. It refers to the behaviors that ensure everyone feels welcome and respected rather than excluded.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are ideal to ensure that groups or organizations can thrive and benefit. Since I came to the United States, I have been studying and working in a multicultural atmosphere as a bicultural and bilingual Asian American woman. I have found that we can benefit from each other by having different cultural backgrounds since we may discuss issues with different perspectives, which can enrich our knowledge and broaden our horizons for coming up with a brand new idea. Diversity, equity, and inclusion can be a huge advantage to a group or organization, as it not only provides more opportunities to demonstrate new ideas, innovation, and creativity, but it also creates a welcoming and comfortable environment to work efficiently and pleasantly. Therefore, diversity, equity, and inclusion together increase opportunities for creativity and innovation, a welcoming atmosphere and a favorable working environment.
When I think of the word diversity the first image I have is of the wonders of nature. I look around my yard and see so many variations in colors and species and types of living beings and their differing needs for survival. Yet they all coexist together in a small area, not without some drama — after all nature has predators and prey — but generally, everything goes about the business of life, sometimes in mutually beneficial ways, sometimes symbiotically, or even parasitically. The point is that relationships are organic. They grow out of a mutual need or interest. This symbolizes diversity to me in humanity. To be sustainable it has to be organic. A commonality must unite the group.
In the case of Atla, I see diversity growing from the shared interest of members in theology. Up until recently, this theology has been Christian theology. And understandably so. This was the American Theological Library Association and Christianity predominated in these United States. And although this is still somewhat true, people, especially young people, are seeking a spirituality untethered to any certain dogma or denomination. Atla as an organization is also turning this way by opening its membership and resources to other religious traditions. I see it slowly happening and this is good, healthy, organic diversity. It is also an evolutionary process and by this, I mean slow in developing. Just because you throw open the doors does not mean people will run through it; more likely they will peek around the door frame to see what is in there for them. Atla has made real progress in working toward diversity and, although the process is slow, people are coming. So that is how diversity looks to me — like-minded people grouped around a common interest. The most diverse group to which I belong has a common interest in tennis. We have all types of nationalities, skin colors, genders, and personalities. But we all gather and partner together to play the game we love. This is diversity done naturally; the only way it truly works and lasts.
To learn more about the DEI Committee and their work, visit their page.
Enjoying the Atla Blog?
Subscribe to receive email alerts of new blog posts of a specific type. Members, subscribers, publishers, or anyone interested in the study of religion & theology are welcome to sign up to one or all alerts to keep up to date with the Atla community. If you or your institution are a member, the Atla Newsletter delivers a monthly curated email of top posts to your email inbox.