With the events of the past couple of years, the topics of authenticity and self-identity have been brought to light. Those topics have made me think deeper about my roots and assess three questions: Who am I? Where am I? How did I get to where I am today?
The Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Emerging Leaders session last January, about sharing one’s individual perspectives and stories related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), has augmented my thinking. There are some distinctive lessons I have learned through the stories that were shared in the session. The speakers brought their unique perspectives through their individual experiences on how they have dealt with authenticity, self-identity, and inclusion.
The story of her grandmother’s quilt, as told by Ivy Banks, JD, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Xavier College, resonated with me. She talked about her childhood memories of a quilt that her grandmother stitched together with pieces of clothing from the past. It was made from a very exclusive collection of curtains from her great grandparents’ home, her grandfather’s pants, their family blanket, and more. When Ivy questioned her grandmother about why she decided to put it together, she shared that the quilt has embedded history: it was all she had to offer her (Ivy) and her generation, because of where her grandmother had grown up and the available resources at the time. As Ivy explained it, it is a lesson in humility, identity, and threads of compassion in her own leadership journey.
The session helped me think about my own story from a distinct perspective: I realize and value the efforts that generations of my family have put into making me what and where I am today. It elucidated the fact that I am here as a product of many generations’ work and sacrifices toward a bigger goal. It shed light on the importance of persistence and determination, and emphasized that progress can be brought about by challenging the norm, all while being your authentic self.
The session speakers also talked about justice and equity being results of diversity and inclusion. The conscious efforts to be inclusive and gather feedback from people of a broad pool of identities will cater to the needs of the many. However, sometimes in the process those voices are lost or underrepresented. Through the panel discussion, I learned representing those who are not at the table or cannot be at the table is crucial to being inclusive in the process. Additionally, it is imperative that we make every effort to get everyone to the table. It will help me change my approach toward engagement and inclusion in my professional work going forward.
There are few places like institutions of higher education where individuals and perspectives from all backgrounds, thinking, and aspirations come together. As planners and designers of campuses that will shape the lives of those who seek advanced learning opportunities, it is our responsibility to cater to all stakeholders who are impacted. During the process of engaging with the participants, it is important to understand that everyone has a unique identity and perspective that they bring to the conversation. It is imperative that we recognize and honor that identity—and provide them with an opportunity to be heard and preserved.
Ashwin Dharmadhikari, MS, AICP, LEED GA, is a campus planner with Ayers Saint Gross, focused on providing strong campus and community connections. His planning approach balances data-driven analysis with stakeholder engagement toward developing thoughtful planning and design solutions for complex physical challenges. He also has a passion for community engagement and strong enthusiasm for incorporating DEI in the process.