Diversity is an Imperative

When author and poet Joseph Kenyon was a fledgling faculty member, he asked his students to describe their dreams. A student with AIDS spoke up, and at this time, such a diagnosis meant death.

Kenyon said he must have looked shocked, knowing the student’s certain fate. He would never forget the student’s response: “My time might be limited, but I still have dreams.”

It was an eye-opening moment, reminding Kenyon of our common humanity, a lesson that still resonates in his classroom. “If we don’t broaden our horizons, we become narrow,” said Kenyon, now associate professor of English and interim associate chairman of the department. “Nothing challenges us. We become caricatures.”

Kenyon says he now pushes himself and his students to look beyond the borders of personal cultural norms. Diversity, he says, is a human imperative, particularly for writers—and for teachers. “When we as writers don’t diversify who and what we know, we are limiting ourselves and our craft,” he wrote in his blog. “Practice wondrous variety. Both your writing and your life will be richer for it.”

Kenyon, who is among the faculty members working toward completing the College’s new Diversity Certificate Program, can cite the deliberate action he took to diversify his views. He grew up in a small, mostly homogeneous white city in western Pennsylvania. His first teaching experiences were in rural and suburban community colleges.

“Students are going to have different pressures than the ones I had,” he said, noting that it’s up to him and the College’s faculty to look within themselves so they can better support their students.

“I combat it by confronting my own biases,” he continued, “I combat it by going to class realizing I can learn as much from my students as they learn from me. I’ve got the world in my classroom. Why would I close my eyes?”

Kenyon’s dedication to his students was recognized this year when he was named the recipient of the 2018 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award. As the Award winner, he will give a spring lecture on a topic that promotes teaching excellence.