Diversity: Attitude, Awareness, and Action

In my line of work, I travel across the country as a Regional Director for Sigma Pi Fraternity, International working with many young men at differing developmental stages in their life.  So far, neither students nor visits have been the same.  Every chapter and every student has a unique perspective and viewpoint for changing things for the better, and this is what excites me most about the line of work I do.  I have developed an interesting perspective within the realm of higher education as I have manifested my own sense of purpose from these travels.  Students need to be educated and it is my due diligence to provide that education to them- to enlighten and challenge their frame of reference by broadening their scope.

Part of that broadening has to do with one of the aspects of the Creed, to Diffuse Culture.  As many of you are aware, the fraternity and sorority life community has resurfaced in the media with yet another pressing and urgent matter.  The students involved in this incident were removed from their organization, the chapter was shut down, and some were expelled for the racist chant that surfaced all over the internet.  It could’ve happened to any organization.  This post is an introduction to potentially greater dialogue regarding the topic of Diversity and Inclusion and upholding the ideal to Diffuse Culture as mentioned in our Creed.

Diversity, in some instances is a meta-cognitive concept that cannot be taught simply from text but experiences and exposure as well.  I was fortunate enough to take advantage of several experiences afforded to me during my undergraduate and graduate careers, including joining Sigma Pi.  Part of my heightened cultural and moral awareness stemmed from my own curiosity of the world and navigating my own personal identity development.  Having reflected on my own experiences, I have surmised three focus areas that I want to mention when addressing topics associated with Diversity and Diffusing Culture: Attitude, Awareness, and Action.

ATTITUDE: The term attitude is defined as, “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.”  I mention this as one of the areas for addressing diversity-related topics because without the proper attitude on the subject material, discussion and education remains at a standstill.  Part of achieving the ideal: To Diffuse Culture in our organization stems from having a positive attitude about it.  Whenever I lead a presentation or facilitate a workshop to students about diversity, I always begin with making sure my audience is willing and able to discuss this topic appropriately.  I mention that having an open-mind and setting ground rules are key to successfully addressing diversity-related topics.  This is easier said than done sometimes, because we bring in so much of our own personal biases, opinions, and backgrounds.  In order to achieve this progressive aim WE must establish the right attitude about the topic.

Many institutions and other fraternal organizations value diversity and see the benefit in having a diverse student body and membership, and a goal for higher education is to develop effective global citizens for a pluralist society.  However immaturity, provincial viewpoints, and negative attitudes prevent professionals from addressing this topic effectively.  If someone has a disparate thought or view, be respectful, be courteous, and be positive.  In the long run, discussion will feel much more organic and much less intimidating and uncomfortable.  One of my professors from graduate school mentioned that when working with people whom are different, to acknowledge the differences, “it’s not right, it’s not wrong, it’s just different.”  Diversity isn’t about right and wrong, black or white, gay or straight; it’s about being well, different and having the appropriate attitude to embrace those differences.

AWARENESS: There is no denying it, racists, bigots, homophobes, etc. live among us; they are people that have certain viewpoints in various areas pertaining to diversity and inclusion.  But before we start pointing fingers at some of these individuals, it is important to first be aware of our own actions and daily lives to ensure that we are not hypocrites to our own understanding.  Diversity is such a broad term that encompasses many facets, and is often used as an umbrella-term or “buzz word” often in our organizations, but what does it really mean?  Unfortunately, there isn’t one clear, cut definition, why, because it is open for interpretation.  Diversity is more than just obtaining a certain number or quantity of a specific group; it’s about the celebration of the uniqueness and individuality of our membership.  Allowing someone to join your organization and then stripping them of their identity to fit into a mold that the organization wants, is not a celebration of diversity, but rather perpetuating the idea the homogeneity is okay.

Before individuals or groups become advocates for diversity and truly begin to Diffuse Culture, members must be aware of how diversity exists around them and be cognizant of how this phenomenon permeates throughout institutions and society.  Part of this awareness comes from your understanding your own individual identity and what makes you unique. My fraternity has a zero tolerance policy regarding discrimination, “In accordance with the Creed of the Fraternity, no Chapter shall deny membership to an individual meeting the criteria outlined in this article and the academic standards of both the Fraternity and the Chapter’s host institution based on race, color, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation, religion or disability.”  With chapters self-selecting members, it is important to know and understand this policy and violating it is deplorable and subject to consequences.

ACTION: What happened this past week was a wakeup call to the fraternity and sorority community.  But what has happened is now in the past, the damage is done; it is now about moving forward and taking action so situations such as this or others like it do not happen again.  Fraternal organizations are great, and do great things and the strength in numbers within our organizations help cultivate this greatness.  However, what shocked me the most about the racist chant was the fact that no one put a stop to it while it was occurring- meaning everyone involved was okay with the message and agreed with its content.  The psychology of the phenomenon known as Group Think permeates through many of our organizations.  Why?  Because many students are in primary stages of cognitive and moral development, and haven’t been exposed to varying ways of thinking yet.  Does this make it excusable?  Absolutely not.  College is about experimenting, exploring, and experiencing to make meaning to their world.  Unfortunately, many of our students do things to fit in and rarely challenge a group nor go against the norm for fear of being excluded or ridiculed.  This has to change.

As an educator, when I visit with students about the intrinsic value of integrity, I often mention how congruency between a Value and a Behavior need to exist in order for integrity to be achieved.  Many of my students often mention that integrity is about doing the “right thing when no one is looking.”  However in several cases, I challenge my student’s paradigm with a saying, “what is popular isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always popular.  If an organization were to value Diversity then their behaviors would mirror that.  Regarding the  incident of this past week, that did not happen.  For those who just sat there and did nothing, in a way, were not living a life of integrity.  So how does a fraternal organization establish this sense of integrity as it pertains to diversity?  By not sitting idle to these things.  My charge to organizations, including Sigma Pi, is to educate those who lack and need the education.  In some cases, that may be our own individual members or others we associate with.  My higher education law professor once said, “College is the marketplace of ideas, the good ideas will surface to the top and the bad ones will just sink to the bottom.”  We as movers and shakers of society must flood the bad with good and bring about this change that many of us want to see happen. Seek out those who are knowledgeable in this area and utilize their insight and wisdom to educate yourself and others.

One of my personal favorite poets, Maya Angelou, imparted much of her wisdom to the world from her own trials and tribulations in a segregated America.  One of her quotes that has always resonated with me captivates much of what I am trying to portray in this blog post.  She stated, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  The students, families, and the country might forget what occurred this past week or even the lyrics to that chant, however, everyone affected will never forget how they felt during this situation.  WE, as civil human beings that truly value respect of differences and Diffusing Culture must continue to educate ourselves and each other if WE are to ever become an accepting and appreciative society.

My charge to you is that if you learned anything from reading this post, or if you were moved by any way to perpetuate it’s message, do that, share it, and WE will already be moving forward on our quest for excellence.  The Executive Office will be taking charge to make diversity more of a priority in our organization, and if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about the recent events or things mentioned in this blog post, please do not hesitate to contact me at jgranado@sigmapi.org.  I want to continue these conversations and potentially start a series of diversity related topics.  I am open to other areas and criticisms and together we can uphold the values that make this organization great. Thank you.