Houston starts diversity conversation during LEAD Series

Feb 18, 2016

Terri Houston, diversity expert from the Center for Leadership Development, Inc., spoke on the Newman University campus Wednesday, Feb. 11, as part of the 2015-16 LEAD Series.

“The LEAD Series is a lecture series focused on ‘Learning,’ ‘Engagement,’ ‘Achievement’ and ‘Development,'” said Director of Student Activities Lauren Fontarum (formerly Susong).

“The first year, we did very general topics,” she said, including “Getting to Know Wichita” and “Character Development.”

“This year, we wanted to center the topic on something more substantial, something our students are asking for.”

The focus of the 2015-16 LEAD Series hits on the Newman Code, specifically the last line, which is to live “in the spirit of critical consciousness.”

Fontarum said she started to look up “critical consciousness” to define what it meant to Newman University. She learned that it dealt with social justice, from taking care of the poor to respect for life to diversity issues, which was the topic of Houston’s presentation for the LEAD Series.

“Not only did we think this was a good idea, but these are the conversations our students were saying they wanted to have,” Fontarum said. “Our students have been vocal about their desire to address the issues of diversity on Newman campus for a couple of years now, and we answered that call.”

Empowering the ‘One Beloved’ to Transform Society

Houston’s presentation “Empowering the ‘One Beloved’ to Transform Society” has been six months in the making.

The conversation began in August last year at a student leadership retreat. The conversation continued with Dean of Students Levi Esses and Fontarum, as well as with the student leaders in attendance.

Typically, Houston said she works the crowd during her presentations, but “I’m not going to do that tonight,” she said during her presentation.

“I want to talk to you. I feel it very important that I talk directly to and with you because we’re going to be doing that quite a bit,” she said, referring to the conversation continuing on campus after she left.

In her presentation, Houston covered sensitive topics — from the freedoms granted by the First Amendment to the dichotomy of the meaning of the term “pro-life” — from “a woman’s right to choose and a couple’s right to marry,” to the difference in action and inaction concerning the violence that affects poor, urban communities and the violence that affects wealthier, whiter communities.

No topic was off limits.

Houston also addressed diversity in terms of division.

“We are divided more by race, and religion, and gender, and class, and neighborhoods, and economics,” she said. “And even more divided by our discourse.

“So when conversations, controversial conversations, about guns, or drugs, or God, or gays, or life in this country, when they reach a decibel level that numbs understanding and comprehension, we have to listen differently,” Houston said. “We have to listen with our whole heart.”


Continuing the conversation

Diversity fits into “the spirit of critical consciousness” because, Fontarum said, we all must learn to view ourselves as part of the world.

“This is all about learning how to transform yourself,” she said. “You have to start with yourself… and then you can go out and change the world.”

“This was a challenging conversation that I hope our students will pick up the reins on and keep having the conversation,” she said. “This is also a challenge to us as staff and faculty and our administration to open our ears and listen to our students.”

“Empowering the One Beloved, we must become one because discrimination, it’s killing all of us,” Houston said. “Bigotry, judgement, intolerance, fear… it’s killing all of us. Hate is destroying us. So where do we begin? How do we transform the One Beloved to become a one spirit? Maybe, it’s where we are today.

“We can make a choice tonight, Newman University, to be the change.”