Proud of Diversity

My grandmother ran her farm like she might have to feed all of America some day. As a boy, I used to go there many summers. Grandma's farm is where I first learned a strong work ethic and how collaboration plays a vital role in success. I also learned a few other things, including how to take an egg from a hen without her knowing it was gone.

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Photo courtesy of New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT)

In my eyes, Grandma could do anything. So it was really difficult for me to understand why, when it came to going to the bank, she had to take my uncle to sign all of the paperwork. At the time, I didn't know that the bank had policies that prevented women from doing business. I just knew that it felt wrong.

Many of us have experienced and/or witnessed discrimination as children, and it's hard to understand why there are so many adults who still engage in the practice. Like many negative things in life, discrimination can be appealing because it is a seemingly easy way to make oneself feel greater and to keep resources away from others. But one of the things all of the fabulous women in my life have taught me is that it is much more rewarding to stay positive, particularly when interacting with others.

Growing up, I was surrounded by women. I have a brilliant older sister and a younger sister who works hard. My wife, Dr. Diane Bloom, is an amazing professor whose students love her and who continues to teach me things on a fairly regular basis. As a teacher I encountered outstanding students, from so many different backgrounds, who were eager to achieve and contribute to society.

Yet I vividly remember the debate in the mid-1980s when politicians and educators alike were trying to prevent the creation of programs for talented students in public schools. Many argued that their gifts, natural or otherwise, were rewards unto themselves so it was therefore fair to withhold public resources and basically discriminate against these students, who were different, by not meeting their educational needs. Fortunately I worked with great people -- including former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, NJIT President Emeritus Saul K. Fenster and NJIT former Dean of Students Constance Murray -- to help ensure these and all students' needs were met to the best of the state's ability at the time.

One of the beautiful outcomes of working on a college campus every day is that I am consistently asked to look at issues from a new perspective. It is refreshing and keeps my mind alert. It opens up insights and forces me to ask more questions. It is one of the reasons so much discovery and innovation happens on campuses, only to benefit all of society.

As such, colleges and universities are obliged to be models of respectful communities that encourage positive interaction and true appreciation for all parties, inclusive of their diverse and rich backgrounds. Faculty and students are encouraged to participate in passionate dialogue about their ideas and pursuits but clashes in paths or approaches should not lead to immature personal attacks or discrimination.

On the NJIT campus, diversity is broadly accepted as a strength, an opportunity and a cause for celebration. We've also made it a priority, in our strategic planning, to set goals, deadlines and metrics to ensure we're taking specific action to remedy issues that continue to plague us from the past.

When I was a boy, I recognized discrimination in my gut but I didn't know what to do about it. As adults, we really should both recognize it and know what to do. I join that league of dreamers, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who know that doing the right thing may sometimes be difficult yet always betters humankind.

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