Speaker defines and promotes diversity

Story by Katlyn Mackie, Staff writer

“Whether you are a student leader who stands up for what you believe and know to be right, whether you are a faculty member who notices the exclusion of women or whether you are someone who protests broadly, innovators are always leading with courage,” Damon Williams said.

A conversation surrounding equality on Murray State’s campus sparked as Williams, a keynote speaker and author of several books, delivered a lecture about diversity and inclusion on Oct. 13.

Williams is regarded as one of the nation’s most dynamic and innovative leaders and has served as a keynote speaker and thought leader to more than 300 institutions globally. He is currently the senior vice president for programs, training and youth development for the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Innovate Diversity

The first idea Williams presented was how to innovate diversity, which he said is the greatest nationwide social challenge. He said people must talk about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in a way that strives to change the status quo rather than maintain it.

Williams discussed five skills from “The Innovator’s DNA,” a book by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gergersen and Clayton Christensen, that beg the question, “What makes an innovator an innovator?”

Williams said the first two characteristics of innovators are always questioning the world and finding solutions to problems anywhere.

The third characteristic is engaging other innovators in order to cultivate ideas. Williams gave the example of Steve Jobs remaining in Silicon Valley, California, despite being fired from Apple, because it is where innovation was happening.

Williams said innovators also understand they must have a bias toward action, learn to experiment with new ideas and then take those ideas to scale, the fourth and fifth characteristic.

“If you do the same thing you have always done, you will find yourself having the same result,” Williams said.

Williams said a sixth characteristic that innovators in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion must have, Williams said, is courage.

“Courage to look beyond conviction, courage to ask big questions, and courage to ask ‘how do we really go the extra mile and stand out,’” Williams said.

The Framework of Diversity

The reason we need to innovate diversity, Williams said, is because the framework is constantly shifting and evolving.

Williams said diversity used to just be about headcount, meaning the degree to which our campuses are represented by African Americans and by women in levels of leadership. He said it is still a part of the narrative of diversity, but the conversation has continued to expand as has the framework.  

Williams referred to certain aspects in our world that are shifting the conversation in powerful ways as “the perfect storm of dynamics.”

Two of these aspects is technology and social media. Williams said we live in an era where everything is connected and as a result, anything that happens is broadcast immediately.

“If there is an incident involving an African American male and the police, it gets broadcasted immediately,” Williams said. “If there is something that happens on campus, it gets broadcasted immediately. There are no secrets anymore because things move around the world very quickly all the time.”

Williams said another aspect is the emergence of a global economy. He said people cannot simply educate those with great privilege, but educate those in vulnerable circumstances.

“Trump Lash”—a term Williams coined to describe President Trump’s multiple executive actions—has also succeeded in shifting the conversation of diversity, elevating it in ways never seen before.

He said the news surrounding DACA, immigration, Title IX, gender equality and transgender service members has made discussion about diversity, equality and inclusion unavoidable.

Generational differences have also contributed to changing the conversation. He said baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials and centennials are all part of diversity innovation.

“The new conversation of diversity is how do we prepare you to lead, collaborate and compete in a diverse global world,” Williams said.

Student Reaction

John Skinner, vice president of Black Student Council, said Williams had more unique viewpoints and a broader perspective than he originally expected.

“When we go out into the real world to work, this is something we can bring with us and not just have… here on campus,” Skinner said.

He also said it is important for students to hear this so they take an “extra step back” when making decisions about diversity issues.

Whitney Hardison, president of Black Student Council, said she really enjoyed Williams’ lecture because it fits in well with the message of BSC. Hardison hopes William’s speech inspired students to speak up about diversity.

“If nobody speaks up, then nothing gets fixed,” Hardison said.