As a woman of color in higher education, I have grown used to being “the only”—the only person of color and/or woman in rooms of power. This is not unique to academic institutions. The novelty of someone like myself in leadership can also be seen in business, healthcare, and other arenas.
A number of books and research studies have investigated the importance of diversity, and advocate that diversity be embedded as early as possible. Many theorists also argue that our organizational and societal contexts require greater diversity. Indeed, diversity has become an imperative.
What this discussion often overlooks are the benefits and opportunities of those challenges and what being “the only” can provide. I have recognized my only-ness (as an African American woman) as an opportunity for ministry.
My presence has an impact on race relations. As my colleagues interact with me and as my students learn from me, I see the perspectives of those colleagues and students shift. I embody a fresh point of reference by which others can combat the limited and diluted images presented to them in popular culture and media.
Research supports this assertion.
Anthony Antonio found that when college students have racially diverse friends and classmates, and engage in discussions with racial—and opinion—minority members, students grew in their understanding of the world. As Kim Box concludes (Woven Leadership, 2011),
Diversity is a secret weapon to build the most successful organizations.
As leaders, we will at times need to become all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). As we shepherd an ever increasingly diverse constituency, it is important we create environments open to and welcoming for all people.
Is diversity on your radar? Who is “the only” in your circle?
Dr. Aisha Lowe serves as Associate Professor of Education and Associate Dean of the Office of Academic Research at William Jessup University.