Baker Report: Talking toward better tomorrows

NIU President Doug Baker and Chief Diversity Officer Vernese Edghill-Walden participate in October's Unity Walk.
NIU President Doug Baker and Chief Diversity Officer Vernese Edghill-Walden participate in October’s Unity Walk.

One of the hallmarks of higher education is the incredible immersion it provides students from different backgrounds and walks of life into a sea of rich and diverse perspectives.

Young and old scholars from small towns, suburban villages and urban cities from across our nation, and from countries far beyond our borders, all come here to NIU to learn, collaborate, grow and be prepared for successful lives and careers.

We all come to this point in our journey with different backgrounds and histories. We have rich differences that reflect many dimensions including race, ethnicity, faith, gender identity, disability and economic status. No one can deny that such markers and points of view can, and do, cause tensions and misunderstandings, but they also offer great opportunities to learn from one another.

Fortunately, higher education is also home to open minds that challenge conventional ways of thinking in the discovery of new and perhaps better perspectives.

College and university campuses aim to welcome, encourage and accommodate safe and honest discussions on just what makes us human. Talking about our differences – and what unites us – is how we find, and seed, common ground that yields a harmonious and prosperous future for all.

To that end, NIU will launch next week a new series of Diversity Dialogues where we will gather for honest and civil conversations on these complex and important matters.

Please mark your calendars for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, and join us in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium of the Homes Student Center.

Frederick Lawrence
Frederick Lawrence

Frederick M. Lawrence, a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, will explore questions of First Amendment, free speech and lawful assembly alongside NIU College of Law Interim Dean Mark W. Cordes and two NIU students.

Upcoming topics later this spring and this fall include gender inequality and sexual misconduct; structural oppression, structural racism and racial reconciliation; and defining “inclusiveness” at NIU. Thanks are due to Vernese Edghill-Walden, senior associate vice president for Academic Diversity and chief diversity officer, for her work to bring this vision to fruition.

Diversity and inclusion are core values here; they help us to prepare students for lives and careers in a diverse society where cultural competency is a key to success. We need to have, and learn how to lead, respectful dialogues about difficult issues so that we can work together to solve society’s complex social and economic challenges.

It is clear that the NIU Diversity Dialogues will help promote that shared understanding between us and solidify the foundation for real and positive change.

My belief in our collective potential is strong, but that conviction demands participation. Some of you might offer ideas we’ve never heard or considered before – ideas that could help build bridges across our community.

Join us. Your voices are important.

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