Littlefoot’s Mother: Three-horns never play with long-necks.
Littlefoot: A long-neck? Hmm…Mother, what’s a long-neck?
Littlefoot’s Mother: Why, that’s what we are, dear.
Littlefoot: Oh. Well, why can’t l play with that three-horn? We were having fun!
Littlefoot’s Mother: We all keep to our own kind—the three-horns, the spiketails, the swimmers, the fliers. We never do anything together.
Littlefoot’s Mother: Well, because we’re different. lt’s always been that way.
–Excerpt from The Land Before Time (1988)
In addition to being the newly elected Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within the USC College of Nursing (CON), I am also a proud wife and mother of two. Who would have thought that in my attempt to introduce my kids to a movie I watched as a child, there would be a message of diversity and inclusion? Littlefoot’s question, “Well…why?” is the heart behind the advancement of diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Fifteen years ago, I was a first-year graduate student in my Masters of Social Work Program at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. One of my most memorable homework assignments in that program was when Dr. Edith Lewis asked us to wear or pin a Rainbow Pride ribbon on our person so that others could see it. She asked us to wear it for a week and write a reflection about it. Since my book bag was part of my daily wardrobe, I pinned my ribbon there and off I went. That was a very memorable week. I reflected on how I felt like people were always staring at me. They would see my pin and then look away. It felt like they were trying to “figure me out.” As an African American female, I was used to being a minority, but these looks felt different. When we returned to class, students talked about how the assignment made them feel. Some talked about how they refused to even participate and why. I remember leaving that class with a life-changing awareness and sensitivity that I continue to carry with me. For me, this was a class assignment; for some of you, this may be your day-to-day life experience. It’s these types of real life experiences that we must value, respect and learn from in order to make USC more inclusive.
As graduate students, many of you may be going to school while balancing other life obligations. Some of you may feel like you don’t have an interest in or time to be involved in diversity-related activities on campus or in the community. I challenge you to do something different and integrate it into your graduate learning experience. Enroll in a special topics course in another department (one very different from your major) that may expand your perspective. Work as a graduate research assistant on a project focused on improving the lives of vulnerable populations. Volunteer with a local community organization committed to social justice.
Go play with that three-horn.
You just might end up having fun!
Dr. Tisha Felder is an assistant professor and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the College of Nursing at the University of South Carolina.
Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at email@example.com.