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Diversity & Inclusion

—By Talia Carroll, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

I clearly remember riding my pink-and-white banana seat bike from my house on Twining Drive down to the shopette to buy strawberry Mentos. It was sort of a thing to have the 30-cent treat and also to enjoy the quick jaunt down the hill. Living on Tinker Air Force Base and being wholly steeped in military dependent life was rewarding for me, and it was where I was introduced to diversity, equity, and inclusion, though I didn’t have the language to describe what I was experiencing. As a result of my friendships, schooling, and interactions with people on base, I was exposed to early lessons about race and ethnicity, income inequity, and gender normativity, for example.

I remember being able to stay out and play with my friends until the streetlights came on at dusk—all the while not having a full appreciation about the rich racial and cultural diversity of my friend group. We all learned a lot from each other, and I was never fully prepared to leave them after finding out our family would be moving to The Azores, an island chain off of the coast of Portugal.

The Azores was the first stop, then Singapore, and the final assignment was Rota, Spain. Throughout my lived experiences, I was afforded the opportunity to travel extensively, continue to expand my network of friends, and learn about the deeply unique and beautiful cultures across the globe. In Portugal, on Terceria Island, my family and I would navigate the steep, hilly terrain, regularly frequenting local restaurants to enjoy some of the most amazing food I’ve eaten in my life. One year, while attending Singapore American School, I participated in “Interim Semester,” a one-week global experience, to travel to Nepal, explore the Himalayan region, go whitewater rafting, and learn about Nepalese culture during class with our faculty guide. While living in Spain, I committed to learning Spanish, though I can’t say I’m altogether comfortable with holding a conversation without long pauses and deep thinking about how to conjugate a verb.

These selected reflections are important for you to know as I share next what it means to me to be in my role at OCU. Truly, I could have never imagined that my formative years would so heavily influence who I am today and what I have the opportunity to do in this inaugural role.

At OCU, all of my personal and professional life experiences have come together, serving as a solid and meaningful foundation for how I engage on a day-to-day basis. As the new vice president for diversity and inclusion, I am charged with providing leadership for our institutional plan and goals related to diversity and inclusion. While equity and justice are not in my title, I am committed to both, as well.

You may be wondering, “What does all of this mean? Why is it important for a higher education institution to have dedicated leadership in these areas?” My direct, uncomplicated answer is that our state, country, and world are ever-changing, and it is critical for the places that help educate so many to be open and responsive to those being educated, the educators, and all who support the overarching mission to create lifelong learners who are prepared for a global context. In just thinking about the preparation for global engagement, it is not lost on me that part of my important work is to aid others in expanding their perspectives, becoming more curious about others, and seeking learning for themselves that helps them understand the dynamics of social and cultural change.

Those who are eager to pursue a degree at any level enter the higher learning space with multiple identities and experiences informing how they engage in the world including their worldview, income level, race, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, and gender identity, for example. We have the opportunity to understand how identity shapes the lived experiences of those we engage with daily. As a place for learning and supporting the growth of all, it is important and, dare I say, necessary for the university to ensure the space, practices, and policies rise to meet people where they are and also support them in their ability to engage fully in and outside of the institutional context.

While what I’ve shared may seem singularly connected to students who enroll at OCU, our institution’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice needs to be a focus for the entire community and at every level for staff, faculty, students, and engaged alumni.

During this year, as I continue to learn about our institution and its members, I am excited to lead efforts alongside others who are committed to making our university more open and inclusive.

Ultimately, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion team’s mission is to create a more diverse, equitable, and just community for us all and to do so through thoughtful and strategic changes that support a learning environment that promotes positive culture change.

I remain excited to offer leadership during this time and look forward to sharing some exciting accomplishments over the years.

The work may not always be easy. We may not always agree.

We will, however, be better tomorrow than we were the day before.

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