Jace Weaver, director of the Institute of Native American Studies and religion professor at UGA, spoke about the value of diversity in education and the importance of difference at the annual Embracing Diversity lecture.
“You need not only an education that teaches you what American looks like, you need an education where your professors and fellow students look like America and all of its diversity,” he said. “It is by encountering difference in the classroom that you are challenged. It is by encountering people of different backgrounds, cultures, life experiences and orientations that you develop empathy and critical thinking—by discovering that there are different ways of seeing the world other than your own.”
Weaver spoke of his family history from revolutionary times to the Trail of Tears to the Civil War to the depression to World War II.
“My family’s story is the story of America,” he said. “From indigenous people, immigrants. And you need an education that shows the face of America.
“If you’re going to live in the United States, you’re going to encounter difference—that includes an increasingly diverse state of Georgia,” Weaver said. “And if you’re going to succeed in an increasingly diverse country or in an increasingly interconnected world, you will need to understand and deal with difference.”
Weaver said that difference—not sameness—is necessary for a thriving democracy. He urged students to step out of their comfort zone and open their minds to classmates who are different from them.
The theme of the event was celebrating community.
“It’s important that everyone on each of our campuses understand that diversity, inclusion and the work of celebrating and embracing diversity is everyone’s job,” said Michelle Cook, interim associate provost for institutional diversity. “We are truly a community, and we hope that everyone will take the opportunity to engage with your UGA community to promote and further diversity.”
Also at the lecture, two scholarships were handed out. The Black Alumni Scholarship was presented to Dedrek Bryant from Valdosta. The scholarship is presented annually to a first-year student who exhibits dedication to racial equality. Bryant has been involved with the Upward Bound program and the People to People Leadership Summit at Harvard. The 2011 Diversity Scholarship was presented to Yosan Negga, a freshman from Atlanta. The scholarship is need-based and designed to attract exceptional students to the university community. Students must have demonstrated leadership through community service and extracurricular activities. Negga, who is originally from Ethiopia, was recognized for her efforts with the Ethiopia Reads program where she helped send more than 300 books back to Ethiopia.