Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington visited Wheaton to talk about Leadership and Diversity in the 21st Century. The lively and engaging discussion took place the evening of March 22 in a packed Hindle auditorium. President Dennis Hanno touted the event as incredibly important and the speaker as immensely qualified.
As Hanno pointed out in a campus-wide email, Washington is the founder and president of many significant organizations concerning social justice. Hanno also believed there is no timelier or more important discussion than this one, as he wrote, “[This talk] is to help create a stronger Wheaton but also to connect us to what will happen in the outside world.”
Washington started by talking about students as leaders, pointing out that only around 17% of the population has college degrees. He said, “If you don’t think you’re a leader, get over it. It is time for you to realize you have more formal education than over 83% of the population. You will need to be a leader.”
Students were encouraged to move around the room and sit with a stranger. This activity was done in an effort to deepen the level of authentic conversation. “Moving beyond your comfort zone; there is no easy way to make this happen. You must practice, there is no substitution for this, …that’s what we are going to do tonight,” Washington said. The student partners then conversed about the campus climate and hopes they had for Wheaton.
The discussion went on to the skill of joining others in conversation, paying attention to who starts the conversation about these issues of diversity, why some don’t speak and the problems with attacking another person in conversation. “If your intention [in a conversation about diversity] is to take the other person out, it gets in the way of community building. Don’t squelch your emotion, but take a deep breath and trust that they are doing the best they can,” Washington said.
Washington also described internalized oppression and dominance concerning race and the idea that there is a context for race in America. “Why do we still go to race when talking about diversity: because we have a racial context. You must be willing to do race,” Washington said, “Notice I did not say race was more important, but for some reason people want to [incorrectly] start at more than race, but not do race.”
Washington also stated that college students have to do a lot in order to truly be leaders that tackle the issues that arise concerning diversity. He encouraged students to practice having authentic conversation and recognize what they are good at when it comes to communicating and discussing.
“To be able to change things on a systematic level, we need to engage on a personal level,” Washington said, “If you do diversity well, the value of the Wheaton degree will rise.”