That was the message from activist Kevin Powell, who drove the point home with stories from his own life during a March 9 talk at Fordham.
Throughout elementary and high school, for instance, “I didn’t have a single black or Latino writer in my education [curriculum],” said Powell, an author and cofounder of the activist group BK Nation. “So when we think about diversity, I also think about how we are… miseducated. To me, it’s not a real education if you don’t see yourself in your education.”
He gave the keynote address on March 9 at Fordham’s fourth annual Diversity Leadership in a Global Society conference, organized by the offices of career services and multicultural affairs in concert with several employers. Fordham’s Bronx African American History Project also supported the event.
Representatives of several entities—Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Viacom, JPMorganChase, and the Association of American Publishers—spoke about their diversity-related efforts and offered career advice. Fordham professors and administrators held talks on topics including leadership and the politics of identity.
In his address at the end of the day, Powell told students to speak up if they see people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, or other communities being excluded.
“Whatever you decide to do, I feel that you all have a responsibility in your careers to challenge the lack of diversity, the lack of equality,” Powell said, noting gender pay gaps in particular.
“It can’t just be the women raising their voices,” he said. “Men, we’ve got to stand up against patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, and say, ‘Hey, this is unfair that they’re not being paid the same wage as me and they’re doing as much work, if not more work, than me.’
“Let’s make sure other voices are being heard,” he said. “If you really believe in diversity, really believe in democracy, then let’s make sure those voices (are at) the table.”
The conference theme, “Coming to the Table: Facing Your Fears,” referenced the fear that can keep people from celebrating their personal differences or embracing those of other people.
Workshops dealt with various fears, like the fear of saying the wrong thing, and also the need to appreciate other people’s perspectives, whether stemming from race or gender or age or life experience.
Student Jose Munoz was able to network with speakers from the various companies and also to meet more students who fall outside his orbit at Fordham. He noted that the diversity at Fordham is a precursor to what students will find in the workplace.
“Whatever it is you decide to do, people are not always going to be like you,” said Munoz, a senior economics major in the School of Professional and Continuing Studies. “They might not be the same ethnicity, maybe they don’t have the same upbringing financially.”
“Sometimes, somebody from a different background might give you a fresh perspective on something you’re working on that you would have never seen.”
Isabel Wallace-Green, a freshman dance major at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, came to the event because she’s found far more diversity at Fordham than she experienced in her home town and wanted to learn more about it. Her classmate Mikaela Brandon, also a dance major, came because of an interest in diversity and social justice.
In closing remarks, Juan Carlos Matos, assistant dean and director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, spoke about the need to overcome the fear of failure in fostering greater inclusiveness.
“As we begin to understand that failure is not necessarily always what we fear it to be, but look at it as more of an opportunity … we can continue to move forward as a society,” he said.