Speaker challenges Fairfield students to increase 'circles of diversity'


In a speech at the Second Annual Conference on Diversity and Multiculturalism at Fairfield University, Dr. Mary Brabeck, dean of the School of Education at Boston College, issued this challenge to the community: "Engage in an outrageous act and everyday rebellion on behalf of increasing your circle of diversity, and treating the diverse members of the human circle with dignity, respect and love."

Dr. Brabeck said people are bound by the contexts in which they live. "The meanings we make of people, encounters, knowledge, the words that you are studying - all meaning is affected by the boundaries of our experience," she said. "Our openness to diversity will set the limits on how large is the circumference of our circle of belonging."

The Second Annual Conference on Multiculturalism and Diversity in Catholic Higher Education, which took place on Feb. 21 and 22, attracted approximately 200 representatives of 35 colleges and universities from as far as California to deal with topics concerning ethnicity, the meaning of diversity at colleges, disabilities, the curriculum and gender issues. The conference included 20 workshops on subjects such as using literature and film to discuss diversity, addressing diversity in the curriculum, and preparing students to deal with diversity in their careers.

She said those who share in the mission of a Catholic and Jesuit university are in special ways obligated to expand the boundaries of the circles of their relationships. Diversity, she said, means forging relationships beyond those within the circle of belonging they were reared by accident of birth and education.

"We love one another through our actions," said Dr. Brabeck. "We overcome intolerance and hatred through our doing our work for social justice. When we proclaim the diversity of our circle, and assert that love will prevail it is profoundly moral work. And we all need to be engaged in this work."

Committing an "outrageous act and everyday rebellion," she said, means acting courageously in the face of intolerance, ignorance and apathy. "Let me acknowledge that this conference is an outrageous act and everyday rebellion. Fairfield's diversity core course requirement, the only university in Connecticut to have such a core requirement is an outrageous act," she said. "Your president Fr. Kelley advocates an outrageous act when he says, 'Make multiculturalism a value rather than a catch-phrase.'

"In this historical moment of the Catholic church, being a Catholic university that honestly and prophetically addresses gay and lesbian issues on a Catholic campus is outrageous. Accompany a fellow student who is confronting a racist or sexist authority is an outrageous act. Proclaiming positively and publicly 'I am a feminist' and being proud of it. Refuse to laugh at a racist or sexist joke, collectively identify the groups on campus who are committed to multiculturalism and diversity, and build together, support each other, challenge and accompany each other on the road to changes toward a more pluralistic circle of belonging at Fairfield University."

Dr. Brabeck suggested other initiatives people can take to build bridges among diverse peoples: Sign up for an anti-racist workshop, and let your friends know you are doing that; raise questions in you classes about the experiences not present in the authors you are reading; act on your own experience. "Develop your own list of outrageous acts and everyday rebellions to expand the circle of belonging in your life and the life of the community at your institution," she said.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on March 1, 1997