A Conversation on Inclusive Excellence

Address given to students at Westminster College by President Benjamin Akande, November 13, 2015

Welcome and thank you for joining me this morning for a conversation on inclusive excellence.

Mizzou is in the midst of serious racial debate about tolerance and understanding. Because of the multitude and the timing of these protests, Columbia is under the bright glare of national media scrutiny. But the truth is—race is an ongoing issue. These issues combine to create a quicksand of considerations, which can be overwhelming. Yet, confronting these challenges as a community can also unleash our best thinking and boldest action. We respond to uncertainty by creating new ways of doing things. This is a time for institutions across the country to revisit diversity on their own doorsteps. I see this as an opportunity for us to do the same here at Westminster College.

The racial challenges we face in this country are real. We can never become passive in our efforts to promote diversity and fight racism where ever it shows up. Our efforts to embrace diversity are not about doing the right thing because it is politically correct. We embrace and champion diversity because it makes us stronger. It makes us better prepared to serve our rapidly changing communities. All of you have heard the statistics projecting that in 30 years, our nation will be slightly over 50 percent nonwhite. We are already seeing these sweeping demographic changes in many of the nation’s leading metro areas, including Chicago, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

And so, learning to work and live with people who are different from us is not just an option but a necessity. Embracing differences has become a prerequisite for success. We are all global citizens. Our humanity transcends race, color, ethnicity, nationality, orientation, religion, disability and gender. I believe we are called to love and embrace our differences and celebrate our similarities.

And so how will we continue to embrace diversity on the Westminster campus?

  • Through open and honest dialogue that leads to greater understanding and appreciation of each other.
  • By setting stretch goals that move us closer to an inclusive community.
  • A well-defined recruiting strategy that ensures diverse representation among our students, faculty, and staff.

When we discuss diversity at Westminster College, the conversation should not be bound by divisions between students against students or faculty and staff versus each other. The conversation should include all of us, finding ways to do things better.

We all have a seat at this table, and we all have a voice. Expression of your opinions is vital. Your thoughts and ideas are infinitely valuable. This is our home, and I want to assure you I will uphold your freedom of speech. But that freedom also comes with responsibilities. We must not disparage others. We must not undermine them or mischaracterize them.

We may not agree on all things, but disagreement is not disrespect.

That lack of understanding and communication can be detrimental to our college community so voice your concerns. Bring forth your ideas. We will create a place where our distinguished and diverse pasts converge with the promise of the present and our hope for the future.

In my inaugural address on October 31, I challenged our college to be prepared to be an exceptional place which embraces a broad spectrum of possibilities. This place I call “Yes.” “Yes” is proactive, not reactive. “Yes” is collaborative. It recognizes that teamwork is perhaps the most critical ingredient of success. “Yes” celebrates diversity. Choosing “Yes” is not an option; it is an imperative. It is a place where thought leads to action and action to impact, whether on a college campus, in our communities, around the country or across the globe. “Yes” means bringing people together to find creative solutions to the innumerable problems that confront our world including our differences.

“Yes” is challenging conventional wisdom and creating a community that is an oasis of great ideas and inspiring our stakeholders, communities, other colleges and the world. “Yes” will demand that each of us lead from where we are at Westminster College.

As I turn this meeting over to you, I ask you to remember my favorite African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, then we must go together.” My friends, the challenges we face are daunting, but not insurmountable. We cannot change the world individually, but together, I really like our chances.

I thank you.


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