Diversity and Learning: “A Defining
By Kathryn Peltier Campbell, editor, Diversity
Growth is rarely an easy experience. But it is a necessary
dimension of life’s rhythms. In adolescence, confident
children transition to insecure young adulthood; they
outgrow their clothing, their self-images, sometimes
even their bodies. Hermit crabs face a similar challenge:
but instead of outgrowing their garments, they outgrow
their shells, organic casings that provide shelter under
which they can thrive. Children, of course, adjust.
So too do hermit crabs—but not without initial
discomfort as they shift to more spacious shells.
Caryn McTighe Musil, AAC&U vice president for diversity,
equity, and global initiatives, likened diversity practitioners
to these hermit crabs as she addressed the 2006 Diversity
and Learning conference. Diversity education has outgrown
its frameworks. Practitioners hesitate to leave the
“structural, political, and intellectual shells”
they have so painfully crafted. The diversity movement,
Musil says, has reached a “defining moment.”
Like hermit crabs, diversity practitioners must choose:
remain cramped inside the casements of established structures,
or embrace growth and move toward new forms of engagement.
When Musil suggests that diversity educators need to
shed their figurative shells, she speaks specifically
of three distinct movements within diversity education:
U.S. diversity, global learning, and civic engagement.
Each movement, she notes, has unique strengths, and
each movement has reasonable reservations about collaboration.
Individuals in different movements fear that alliances
will sap their resources or undercut their missions.
In collaboration, however, these movements can create
frameworks that are ultimately “more encompassing”
than those of any single movement. They can accelerate
their collective growth and impact by stepping beyond
the casings that have constrained them.
As Musil recalled, diversity education has always been
dynamic and evolving. The diversity education movement
has, among other things, moved from a desire to advance
social justice to seeing diversity as a means to promote
academic excellence, civic learning, and engagement.
The projects and theories presented at the 2006 Diversity
and Learning conference, many of which are revisited
in this issue of Diversity Digest, illustrate
this process of change and renewal. They also illustrate
the need to celebrate what Musil calls the “remarkable
even if insufficient progress” diversity educators
have made—even as the next generation of diversity
Diversity Digest, too, has reached a point
of transition. The educational initiatives we have promoted
for over a decade have expanded beyond our structural
boundaries. The next issue of Diversity Digest will
introduce a new format, designed to incorporate the
distinct and interrelated movements of civic engagement,
global learning, and U.S. diversity. Growth, indeed,
is rarely an easy experience—but we believe it
will reward us with more spacious architecture for doing
our transformative work.
To listen to a podcast of Caryn McTighe Musil’s
speech “The Shell Game: Regeneration at the Crossroads,”