Diversity has been a really positive part of my experience at the William & Mary School of Education. I think of diversity in terms of role, age, racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender, and current abilities/disabilities. My husband has recently become ill, and the experience has given me a new understanding of what it means to be differently abled. Throughout my life, I have had really positive experiences with diversity. Growing up, I attended an interracial progressive church, and since then, all of my faith communities have all been racially and culturally integrated. These experiences have given me the opportunity to feel a sense of family with people with different backgrounds and cultures.
In college, my husband and I became part of an urban ministry team that reached out to a neighborhood just three miles south of Northwestern University. There is a pocket of high poverty and frequent violence on the northern border of Chicago. We ended up moving there and starting a school, a church, and soup kitchen in some old storefronts we restored. I led the school for 14 years. Although it was immersed in a neighborhood known for violence, where we could not get a pizza or a newspaper delivered, we had a school grounded in nonviolence and progressive education. We dared to think that perhaps hands-on learning wasn’t just for rich kids, and perhaps low-income students deserved those opportunities too. We suggested that maybe the failing neighborhood school wasn’t failing because the kids couldn’t learn, but rather, because the adults were failing to provide a meaningful context for learning. We showed that if you can put a different context around those same kids, they could learn and be creative in really wonderful and inspiring ways. This is why I became a professor—to build on the lessons I learned there, where we were working on a shoestring budget and yet still created a place where people really wanted to be. I wanted to figure out what that magic was so I can share it with others.