Examining diversity on Main Campus

Imagining and Re-Imagining Diversity rethinks issues of race and ethnicity.

Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon said Temple has been called the “diversity university.” But she wants to take a harder look.

Imagining and Re-imagining Diversity, an event to be held on Oct. 28, aims to measure and understand the diversity at Temple.

“With a new president and a new administration, this is an opportunity for us to begin to look at ourselves in a very different kind of way, rather than being told that we are the ‘diversity university,’ said Williams-Witherspoon, an associate professor of urban theater and community engagement.

“We get to get the lived experiences of individuals who live and work in the university community.”

The event will feature speakers like Mayor Nutter and organizers including geography and urban studies professor Dr. Elizabeth Sweet said they hope to address and facilitate discussion on student and faculty diversity, the climate for a diverse workforce and the university’s relationship with its neighbors.

“We take the information, the data, the experiences, the questions about diversity [students have] to small groups and try to come up with ‘action plans,’ or real, concrete plans to try to improve diversity at Temple,” Sweet said.

Students are instructed to write comments and ideas at booths. The idea, organizers said, is to give participants the maximum voice and avoid having anyone give a predetermined definition of diversity.

Mayor Nutter will present his ideas and experiences about diversity in Philadelphia at the symposium.

“As one of the pivotal universities in the city, you can’t really talk about diversity at Temple without talking about diversity in Philadelphia,” Williams-Witherspoon said. “As the mayor of the city, Mayor Nutter is responsible for pushing that discussion … forward.”

Ken Lawrence, senior vice president for Government, Community, and Public Affairs and Joyce Wilkerson, senior advisor to the president for Community Relations and Development, will both speak at the event, as two of Temple’s most publically involved faculty members.

The type of diversity discussed will not be limited – discussions are invited about diversity in race, gender, sexuality and disability as well as transfer students and others in an unfamiliar environment. The discussion will include students, staff and faculty, but the decision was made for the inaugural symposium to exclude non-Temple affiliated members of the North Philadelphia community.

“We felt we really needed to get a handle on who we are and what our thoughts are … Next year … we are thinking about expanding the voice, but it is important to take a step back internally before we reach out,” said Karen Turner, Director of the Academic Center on Research in Diversity.

Turner pointed out some Temple staff members live in North Philadelphia, but said their position is not the same as a regular member of the community.

All three professors said that diversity affects everyone at Temple – staff, students, administrators and neighbors. Turner said that many of her students list the diversity of Temple as one of their main reasons for coming to the college, but she said diversity still needs to be addressed.

“How many people who don’t look like you do you know?” Turner said. “Just coming on campus and seeing a rainbow of people does not necessarily mean you truly have diversity.”

Data collection of participants will help administration to determine in what aspects the diversity of Temple is thriving and where it could be improved. The information gathered will eventually reach administration in order to determine policy and events at Temple.

“It is not just anecdotal,” Turner said. “We are capturing real data.”

Members of the Temple community are invited to stop by the event throughout the day to participate. Those who participate in the smaller group discussions will be able to enter into a raffle to win a tablet.

“Throughout the day, we are hoping that faculty, staff, administrators, students and student organizations talk across the table to each other,” Turner said.

Turner is hoping Imagining and Re-imagining Diversity at Temple will begin to improve the university climate as well as give students valuable skills for when they leave the university.

“As we become increasing a multicultural, multifaceted society, having these conversations in a safe place is really important,” Williams-Witherspoon said.

Vince Bellino can be reached at vince.bellino@temple.edu                                    

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