By Gerard A. Cox, Associate Professor in the School of Liberal Arts, Marist College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Retired in 2001 as an executive administrator after spending ten years as an associate academic dean (1969-1979) and then twenty-two years (1979-2001) as the college’s chief student affairs officer
It’s never too late. It’s true. We often try to convince ourselves that nothing will change. Not so. As sure as the seasons glide from one to another, change occurs on a regular basis. As an old acquaintance used to say, “Just wait. Change is coming ‘round the corner.” Sure, we can see ourselves in seasonal changes, but there are more dynamic changes waiting to happen all the time. The other day I came across a “tip sheet” on the Internet. I wasn’t looking for it. It was just there. Written by CulturePrep’s Peter A. Vogel, it seemed to be awaiting my attention. It was both short and had the nerve to boast, “10 Ways to Get Started Establishing a Diversity-Friendly Environment.” I couldn’t resist the challenge to read it. What appealed most to me was it began by hitting me between the eyes. Vogel wasted no time in telling me that change begins with me. To start I need to “conduct a personal cross-cultural inventory” of my own prejudice, intolerance and assumptions. This also includes admitting to cross-cultural skeletons hanging out in my closet. Don’t just point your finger at them he advises. Resolve to bring about change. Get rid of them. Change will not come until I can forgive others and myself for harmful attitudes and behaviors. Trying to make these changes is rough. “Habits never give up without a fight.” But I need to move on. Progress will come from continual cross-cultural assessment of personal behavior and thinking. Leave the past. Concentrate on how I think and act in the present and how my future is different because of the ways in which I change my disposition. Together with colleagues I should encourage activities within our community, especially with students that help to bring about interaction with people of difference. It will take time. Change will come, if I persist in facilitating intentional change. If I have the courage, I’ll ask a valued other (friend, spouse, or colleague) to help me monitor my attitudes and behaviors over time. I’ll ask that valued other to hold me accountable for what I say and do to help trod underfoot the vestiges of greener days.
There are things “the workplace” (college or corporation) can do to help create a diversity-friendly environment of each of us. But, as significant as such activities are (an internal oversight committee, ongoing assessments and evaluations, recognition for individuals and departments for achieving cross-cultural objectives) real change begins with me. How I change will ultimately help define the working community of which I am part. Ah, yes, John Donne, “No man is an island.” Thank you for always being there to remind me. We are indeed all a part of the mainland, a fact for which I’m grateful.