During the 1999-2000 academic year, I had opportunity to serve as vice chair of RMASFAA’s Diversity and Multi-Cultural Initiatives (DMCI) Committee. In February of 2000, my family and I moved to Ohio and began a series of opportunities and moves that tremendously changed our lives. 18 years later and back in both central Kansas and daily financial aid operations, my submitted RMASFAA volunteer form completed a full-circle in life by providing a return to the DMCI committee. As the work of the committee progresses this year, it has been good for me to ponder related personal, professional and world-wide philosophical shifts that have occurred over these intervening years. In this post, I intend to update readers on some current changes happening within the ethos of this RMASFAA committee while also encouraging each of us to continue thinking about, and acting on, ways we can improve our communities and the inclusiveness of our daily interactions.
In the context of RMASFAA, DMCI over the years has been associated almost exclusively with scholarships and issues of ethnicity. Of course, the term “diversity” now encompasses so much more than it used to. Working towards goals of broadening and modernizing the scope of our work, committee members this year discussed and, ultimately, proposed re-naming the committee and establishing a new purpose statement. At its spring meeting, the Board approved the proposal! Going forward, RMASFAA will benefit from the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The purpose of the committee is to “Explore current social issues that relate to our profession in order to bring awareness to the members of our association and ultimately foster a culture of acceptance, inclusion, and respect. The Committee is also charged with awarding scholarships to members of our association for training opportunities provided by RMASFAA.”
Paulo Freire was a noted Brazilian educational philosopher who receives particular acclaim for his work in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In his book, Freire states and supports his belief that all of us fall into one of two groups – the oppressed and the oppressors. A favorite quote of mine from this piece is, “It is essential for the oppressed to realize that when they accept the struggle for humanization they also accept, from that moment, their total responsibility for the struggle.” It is easy to view placement in either an oppressed or oppressor category from a negative connotation, but if we choose to flip either definition to a positive sense, then we can make choices about how to act for the betterment of those around us. We can each truly own our responsibility, regardless of what issue you choose to place foremost in any given struggle. This is essentially what your Diversity and Inclusion Committee now strives to do. We want RMASFAA members to understand that diversity covers what is different about those around us including things such as gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, background, size, and so much more. We define inclusion as what is being done to not marginalize, discriminate, or minimize a group of our population because of what makes them different.
Somewhere along the way, I’ve become one of the older, more experienced people in the room. Not quite sure how that happened, but a distinct benefit of all the places I’ve lived and worked has been the opportunity to regularly interact with others who represent almost any description of diversity. The distinct opportunity we each have, as I now see it, is how we choose advocate for inclusiveness of others, regardless of personal and collective understanding of any given diverse attribute, into our community. As you consider “Diversity and Inclusion” within RMASFAA, your work environment, and your community, be encouraged to ask questions and ponder solutions. What can you do to advocate for the oppressed? As an oppressor, whether real or perceived, what can you do to help broaden understanding and positively influence policy? There is much we can each do, and RMASFAA members should look forward to continued focus on how we can enhance inclusion.
Mark Bandre, Ed. D.
Diversity and Inclusion Committee