Rusty's Reflections: April 2009
On April 17, I was pleased to give the keynote address at the University of St. Thomas' Symposium on Race, Inclusion, and Culture. I spoke about "Diversity and Democracy: Intersections and Interrogations," and since all of us in OED work at these intersections every day, I wanted to share a bit of that address with you. Here are a few of my concluding remarks:
"...I find it interesting and ironic that throughout history, social justice movements have often been viewed as anti-democratic, when in fact they are anything but. In my days of student organizing and activism, we challenged the “establishment” orthodoxies that kept people on the margins, kept communities entrenched in poverty, ravaged our environment, and militarized our foreign policy.
"But we never, ever posed a challenge to democracy. Indeed, we were struggling to fix democracy with more democracy, and to make our institutions more democratic. After all, isn’t questioning the status quo the most patriotic thing you can do in a democracy?
"Whenever I hear voices raised for equity, or the chants of liberation movements, I think of the courage it takes to advance social justice against sometimes overwhelming “establishment” opposition, or to advance institutional diversity in a way that strikes at the heart of traditional academic structures and orthodoxies.
"I’m also reminded of educator and cultural critic Henry Giroux, who said, “Democratic societies are noisy. They’re about traditions that need to be critically reevaluated by each generation.” It’s that continuous process of interrogation at the noisy intersection of our differences that makes institutional transformation possible.
"When our differences collide, we need to interrogate ourselves, each other, and our institutional systems of power and privilege—courageously, noisily, and shoulder to shoulder—until diversity has as much support, as much importance, as much legitimacy, as any other institutional priority; and diversity is woven into everything we do.
"I chose my life’s work because I believed that diversity was central to democratic institutions. I knew that to keep democracy on track toward its highest purpose, we needed to challenge the status quo and dismantle systems of institutional exclusion and bias. And I knew then, as I know even better now, that each new generation must take on that challenge anew, and rethink strategies for generations yet to come."
As the semester comes to an end, I want to thank each and every one of you for the hard work you do every day, challenging the status quo, dismantling systems of exclusion, and keeping democracy on track. As always, I welcome your own reflections and encourage you to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best,