Amid all our differences are opportunities to work together.
Amid all our differences are opportunities to work together.
Cornell Thomas is black.
Yet, if you only take the 44-year-old School of Education professor at face value, you’ll miss out on so much more.
Thomas — TCU’s first special assistant to the chancellor for diversity and community — grew up in St. Louis, “one block into the white school district,” the last of seven children. His best friend was Jewish. “He taught me everything about being a Jew, and I taught him everything about being black,” said Thomas with a laugh, and like the things he talks about, it’s genuine. “We did everything together.” Thomas lost track of that grade school best friend long ago.
“Just because he was a Jew, people picked on him,” he said. “They called him ‘Jew Boy’ and hit him in the head. His family eventually moved out of the neighborhood. . . . It didn’t matter that he was Jewish. It still doesn’t matter.”
The lesson Thomas learned then, he still carries with him today. As he told the graduate students in his Diversity in American Education course, “We’ve exchanged our privilege of being fellow human beings for lesser titles of race and culture and religion.
“We must begin looking at individuals and not at groups. Even if we all looked the same, there is much more that makes us different, and much more we can learn from. It goes way beyond race or religion or any other distinction.”
Thomas calls the process “proversity,” and while the 15-member Chancellor’s Council on Diversity commissioned last fall and chaired by Thomas hasn’t adopted that term, the group is attempting to broaden everyone’s view of diversity.
Diversity at work means actively developing a greater respect for individual differences as well as embracing what we share in common.
The definition, like the group itself, is a work in progress. The council has only now begun assessing campus attitudes about diversity, which will lead to an action plan. However, it’s clear from last fall — when Ferrari outlined at Convocation the next 10 initiatives for the University — that achieving a community more closely matching the world’s will be among the highest priorities in coming years.
“We seek greater diversity on our campus because there is diversity in the world,” said Provost Bill Koehler, instrumental in boosting the number of minority faculty and staff members. “We are first, citizens of the world. And I think that when you’re young, on the one hand you’re more accepting, but on the other hand more subject to developing stereotypes. We’ve got to make sure our kids become heavy on the accepting.”
Certainly, Ron Parker ’84, the vice president for human resources at Frito-Lay Inc., agrees. He said diversity is a “business imperative” for the world’s largest salty snack food maker. It is a way of doing business, he said, begun by J. Roger King ’63, former personnel vice president for parent company PepsiCo.
“Our workforce, we believe, should reflect our consumer base,” Parker said, “and it casts us in the proper context as we interact with the community at large. “Diversity to us is discovering the originality of individuals and allowing that combination of character, personality, gender, race, religion, skill and cultural background to create a competitive advantage within our organization.”
On the TCU campus, working toward diversity is nothing new, though the level of priority given to it is, said University Minister John Butler, a member of the current committee. He helped form a grassroots group nearly five years ago. Diversity workshops and exercises still occurring on campus came from that earlier effort. Butler said that achieving diversity is looking at “two sides of the same coin,” and that to have a real community, people must choose heads as well as tails.
“The first side is understanding ourselves: Why do I react the way I do to different segments of the community? What are my responsibilities for assuring their traditions and identity as well as mine?” Butler said. “It actually takes more time and more intensity working on self than working on others.”
As difficult as it may be, it’s in everyone’s interest to seek it, he said.
“Each of us at various points in time and place are in a majority and a minority,” he said. “Many European Americans in our area think they are in the majority; by almost any measure, we are in the minority, particularly Caucasians in a global society. Religiously or however else you define yourself, there is a moment where you have to face that you’re a minority.”
James Cash ’69 knows about that. A chaired professor at Harvard Business School today, he was the first black basketball player at TCU and in the Southwest Conference.
“I thought the campus was beautiful,” he said, recalling his arrival, “but since I grew up in a segregated environment, I was shocked to see all the white people on campus!” Humorous in hindsight, the experience was serious for Cash at the time. “There were many challenges (associated with being the first), but they all paled in comparison to the support and affection I received from many members in the TCU community. “I met people that taught me to fight stereotypes and to evaluate people on a much deeper basis than gender, race, national origin or religion.”
TCU seems to have moved toward greater diversity since Cash’s day. Currently, 12 percent of TCU students and 11 percent of faculty and staff are from non-Caucasian populations, and those numbers exclude the campus’ international population, from nearly 70 countries. In addition, more than 40 faiths and denominations are represented on the campus.
“TCU is diverse,” said sophomore Roscoe Compton. “There are diverse people on the campus, it’s just a matter of looking around you.”
Compton, who is gay, said his current circle of college friends include gays, straights and bisexuals. One friend hails from a Scottish-Welsh background, another was raised in the South and one was born in Africa.
“A lot of times, people don’t get past appearance or differences,” he said. “Once you do, you find that you have a lot of things in common. I think the trick is getting to know the inside of the person and just forgetting about the outside part.”
Gregor Esch ’96 said the campus has also made physical strides for people like him. Esch, a freelance sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, was born with cerebral palsy. Esch said he faced numerous obstacles when he first arrived on campus in a wheelchair in 1992, but the University was quick to fix the problems and to consult Esch when trying to make the campus more accessible for those with physical disabilities.
“I think (campus officials) have really tried hard to make getting around easier for me,” said Esch, now preparing to enter the MBA program. “Ninety-five percent of what I do depends on my getting there. If I can get there, I can do just about anything.” So, has TCU itself arrived in regard to diversity?
Certainly not, said Butler, nor will it ever. Diversity is a journey, he said. And the goal for the University lies always in front.
“If we want to prepare our students for this world, then we need to give them as many experiences as possible with as many different people as possible,” he said. “No matter what they do or where they go after TCU, that is the world.
“Diversity is not a fad, it is not something that will go away. Every culture is everywhere. Technology is everywhere. Money is everywhere. We must function with that reality in mind.”
Test your diverstiy…how many of these facts do you know?
1. José is the most common name for a child in the United States today.
2. Only 10 percent of American families have the traditional “father at work, mother at home, with 2.4 children” setting.
3. One in four American children live in single-parent homes.
4. By the year 2000, 85 percent of new entrants to the U.S. workforce will be women or minorities.
5. In 1990, most people classified as “poor” in the U.S. were white.
6. An estimated 80 languages are spoken in California.
7. One in 10 American adults are gay or lesbian.
8. The average age of U.S. workers next year will be 40.
9. America’s largest city, New York, is not among the world’s 10 largest cities.
10. Only 1 percent of the world’s population has a college education.
Sources: U.S. Census, American Demographics, Department of Labor, U.N. Demographic Data, other sources