“It’s in your hands,” Johnnetta B. Cole told Emerson staff and faculty members in her lecture titled “The Case for Diversity and Inclusion in American Higher Education.” “The moral of the story is, it’s in your hands.”
Cole, former president of the historically black Spelman College and current director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, delivered a moving keynote address at Emerson’s August 24 Town Hall Meeting. The theme of the meeting was “Exploring Our Differences” and the event was sponsored by the Office of the President, the Diversity Council, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“Emerson College has a commitment to enhance diversity and ensure a climate of inclusion and equity for all groups,” Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Gwendolyn Bates stated in her opening remarks. “Inclusion treasures diversity and builds community. Today is about exploring our differences, ensuring a climate of inclusion, and building community.”
The Paramount Mainstage was packed with staff and faculty for the two-hour program, which also included remarks by President Jacqueline Liebergott.
“Emerson College has a commitment to enhance diversity and ensure a climate of inclusion and equity for all groups. Inclusion treasures diversity and builds community. Today is about exploring our differences, ensuring a climate of inclusion, and building community.”
Many audience members said they were moved by Cole’s remarks. Diane Paxton, associate director of disability services, was “encouraged that Dr. Cole included people with disabilities in her talk about diversity. Often disabilities are invisible, so people with disabilities may be marginalized — even in discussions about diversity. Most of all, I appreciated Dr. Cole’s statement that she is a ‘practicing human,’ which, to me, honors the idea that each day we have a chance to explore our challenges and act in new and more gracious ways toward others.”
Jacqueline Holland, administrative assistant in Emerson’s Writing and Academic Resource Center, said, “What I appreciated about Dr. Cole’s address was that in addition to her passionate style, she framed a subject that’s difficult to talk about. The talk was engaging, dynamic, and edifying.”
Cole spoke about self-reflection and evaluating one’s own prejudices. She said everyone has some kind of power and privilege, and encouraged all to “use your power and privilege to educate others.”
An anthropologist by training, Cole was also the first woman ever elected to the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises, served on the Merck & Co. board, and was the first African American woman to chair the board of United Way of America. Cole is the author of several books, including Conversations: Straight Talk with America’s Sister President (1993).