On Creating a New Wave of Thinkers

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By: Dian Perrin, Adjunct professor, Theatre Department

I’ve been around for 60 years now; at least 50 of those I’ve been cognizant of the things going on around me. Now, for all of you thinking this has nothing to do with you, don’t stop reading just yet, because in the long run, it will have everything to do with you.

In those 50 years, I’ve lived through a lot of movements—the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, the gay rights movement, the peace movement and many more lesser known crusades to obtain equal rights and humane treatment. At this point, you would think we, as a society, would have learned enough to know when we are repeating the same old patterns that so many have fought to eradicate. And much to my surprise, disappointment and sadness, we never really seem to.

Now, I’ll admit, in the midst of so many looming atrocities going on all over the world, my reason for writing this may seem trivial, but really, it’s not. Why? Because it deals with the foundation of values we hold true to, that will ultimately be used to make decisions affecting what is yet to come. If we can’t recognize that the foundation of our past beliefs hasn’t changed, then we can’t see that what we’re building our future on lacks the necessary structure to support a new way of thinking. So what exactly is my issue and what has it to do with our foundation of values? Well, bear with me, I’m getting there.

Recently, I received two emails from the President’s Office updating faculty and staff on the search for two key positions: the Vice President for University Advancement and the newly created position, the Vice President for Inclusion and Institutional Equity. If you’re unfamiliar with the responsibilities of these positions, let me briefly say what they are. The VP for University Advancement oversees those accountable for increasing “financial resources and alumni participation;” bottom line, this person deals with the search for, acquisition of and the management of financial sources to advance the University’s strategic plan. The VP for Inclusion and Institutional Equity is expected to design and promote the University’s effort to deliver “best-practice diversity, inclusion and cultural competency… across campus;” bottom line, this person is responsible for diversifying the campus, making sure differences are respected and complying with the laws governing equal rights and protection. Both positions are needed, for sure. But here’s my problem, and the reason I’m writing this letter. The make-up of the search committees charged with the duty to recommend a candidate for these positions fail to exemplify the forward thinking values the University strives so hard to promote. Why do I say this? Keep reading, I’ll explain.

The first update I saw discussed the VP for Advancement. I was struck by the high number of men on the search committee—more than twice the number of women, ten to four to be exact. I then looked at the update for the VP of Inclusion, absolutely expecting to see a reversal in the ratio of committee members, and I did; the number of women to men: eleven to four. So what’s the big deal, right? Well, if you don’t see what the big deal is, you’re among those who justify this growing fear I have—that despite all the efforts made to alter how we perceive one another, there remains an enduring mentality from our past that hinders our vision of change. While the notions that men are best at negotiating financial matters and women excel at managing socially relevant issues are no longer in vogue to verbalize, they still remain comfortably embedded in our minds, nonchalantly interfering with any chance for new and alternative thoughts. Consequently, we don’t always notice the little ways past values and beliefs circumvent plans for a more enlightened society. We all make a variety of decisions affecting numerous outcomes, but are we always aware upon which values we stand on when we set events into motion? Or do we act, without any scrutiny of our choices, blissfully unaware that we are, in fact, impeding the establishment of that fabulous future we so covet?

I would like to believe more women are capable of being engaged in matters regarding the University’s financial stability. And I feel fairly certain that the inclusion of additional women would have made possible a more diversified approach to a search most likely guided by the long history of “how these things get done.” Equally sad to me is the thought that more men aren’t invested in the University’s effort to be inclusive and proactive in supporting diversification? And perhaps worse, that the University isn’t trying to hold them accountable to this goal and saw no reason to mandate a more balanced collective. Ultimately, what does this say about the male population within the University community? That they don’t care about diversity and it’s okay for them not to?

I don’t doubt that all the members on both committees are highly suitable for the task at hand, but I bet there are others who are equally capable of handling the task and in the process, would have brought more balance and perhaps even, some forward thinking. So I am extremely disappointed that the University found the makeup of the search committees to be acceptable and therefore approved them. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I always had a problem with that quirky little thought. But after 50 years of watching things “change,” I’m starting to accept, sadly, that things really don’t ever change.

And this is where you, the reader, comes in and why in the long run, this may have everything to do with you. Because if you don’t see the big deal in the little innocuous things happening around you, chances are, you won’t be among the new wave of thinkers we need to change what’s happening today, for tomorrow. Please, don’t let that be you; instead, join the wave.

Dian Perrin

Adjunct Professor,

Department of Theatre Arts

 

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