I get compliments on my English proficiency from well-meaning people who assume I am foreign. My family was born in the USA for a few generations making me culturally American and racially Chinese. I understand how historical prejudice drives current demand for diversity. Diversity yields a richer workplace with more ways to succeed. Multiple perspectives from different people, cultures, races and gender identities enrich any organization.
In December 2001, our nation was reeling from a surprise terrorist attack a few months earlier. The 339th Commencement for Ohio State was scheduled on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, and I was asked to give the Commencement address. I mentioned an Islamic student who became an outcast by ethnicity saying “I felt like someone dumped ice on my head.” I challenged each of the 1,760 graduates that day to make our nation a safe place to be different.
Pearl Harbor Day was a day of infamy that implicates Asians. Although Chinese were allies, my father remained unemployed because he looked like the enemy. He was restricted to running a Chinese laundry, unable to apply a graduate chemistry degree from Fordham. Education provides access to the American dream in partnership with the private sector.
My college diversity catalyst team won a university award for transformational work on the culture of diversity. We celebrate success, learn from ignorance, and teach others the nonthreatening values of diversity. I chaired an academic unit that achieved national prominence by hiring mostly women, three Hispanic- and two African-American faculty members. The fresh thinking these diverse people brought to the program earned us a new building and tripled our endowment portfolio.
Diversity can be a core strength of higher education and of land-grant campuses in particular. It broadens thinking and breeds outcomes that give social mobility to the working class. As the academic enterprise is increasingly global, diversity is how we prepare students for the world and advance new learning and compelling discovery.