Carol Pollard, Diversity Committee Chair 2015-2017
Michelle Sotolongo, Diversity Committee Member 2014-2016
Mark Nelson, Diversity Committee Member 2016-2018
The role of the NACADA Diversity Committee (as explained on its webpage) is “to make recommendations regarding diversity issues within the association. The committee reviews the status of diversity within the organization, recommends methods for enhancing diversity, and advises on how the association can better meet the needs of its diverse membership.”
NACADA defines diversity from a very broad perspective, which includes (but is not limited to) diversity in regard to ethnicity, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation as well as diversity in regard to institutional type, size, and employment position. In this article, three Diversity Committee members share their thoughts on what being a part of the committee means to them.
Michelle Sotolongo, whose two-year term on the committee will come to an end at the upcoming Annual Conference in Atlanta this October, says:
Different can be good. I seek out the other when most are content with the status quo. Experiencing otherness, by witnessing it growing up and later throughout my undergraduate and graduate years of college, has made me even more passionate about embracing the other. l came to the US at the age of three and was raised in Houston. Spanish was my first language, and I am eternally grateful to my mother for enforcing a Spanish only rule at home to make sure I did not forget it. Growing up in Houston exposed me to countless rich cultures that probably contributed to my appreciation for foreigners and multiculturalism.
However, what was a normal home life was different enough from that of my classmates that I never truly felt American, Texan, or even Mexican-American. I still don’t. Visiting family and friends in Mexico showed me the flip side, where not being caught up on the latest slang or pop culture made me feel like an other again, stuck in between two identities that eventually shaped my perception of community, family, and the social constructs of race and ethnicity. I learned in graduate school that otherness as an affliction was more common than I had thought. I became very self-aware, which in turn heightened my awareness to the nuanced differences that make everyone’s experiences unique. Advocating for those experiences to be heard became a genuine interest of mine. I was already an advocate for my students when NACADA showed me a way to do the same for my fellow advisors.
I was not aware of many aspects of NACADA when I first joined and began presenting. I have close friends and colleagues to thank for seeing in me what I am still not so sure I see in myself. The exotic nature of my research topic made me worthy of introductions to multiple people with years of advising under their belts, NACADA movers and shakers. I was encouraged to apply to the Emerging Leaders Program and suddenly found myself surrounded by a group of talented people making waves at their own institutions. One thing immediately led to the next, and I was invited to serve on the Diversity Committee. So really, I was thrown into the big pond and was so lucky that I could swim.
Being part of the Diversity Committee has exposed me to the contributions we all can make to NACADA, contributions of which I was not previously aware. After a while, one’s own ability to see that something special in others becomes honed. Whether it’s identifying issues that need addressing in publications or conferences to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, NACADA strives for excellence in the resources it provides to all kinds of educators and maintains its momentum by bringing in fresh eyes. Everyone can contribute to the NACADA conversation, and I want to use my powers of otherness for good in spotting the fresh perspectives that go beyond the traditional idea of diversity involving gender or race.
No matter how big or small our differences are, they are what make us invaluable as leaders: someone saw something in us, and we have a responsibility to encourage other individuals who we see potential in to can share their wisdom with the rest of us. The best way to acknowledge the differences that make life exciting and well-rounded is to encourage others to share their stories and viewpoints, expertise, techniques, and abilities through leadership. We can all learn a lot from each other and all it takes is a little nudge in the right direction.
Mark Nelson, incoming committee member for the 2016-2018 term, says:
Throughout my life, I have been fascinated by different cultures. When I was in high school, I loved going to Spanish Club events. In college, I was active in Black Student Union, homecoming, and intramurals. Through my difference experiences, I have been privileged to see new places and become introduced to new ideas. My favorite part about diversity, however, is interacting with new and different people. During my junior year in college, I needed an extra hour for my schedule and decided to take a ballroom dance class. I did not have a partner, so I did the brave thing and signed up on my own. On the first night, I stood there quietly as my classmates congregated to the middle of the room with their pre-selected partners. I looked in the corner and there stood an international student from Japan. Her name was Aiko. Like myself, she did not have a partner. She was at least a foot shorter than me, she was very quiet, and she spoke English as her second language. As for me, I was much larger than this young lady (which, by the way, can present a challenge in ballroom dancing), I did not know a single word of Japanese, and I wasn’t always graceful on my feet. To this day, I think our first night in class was extremely magical because we were able to put our differences aside to come together and dance! We scheduled one night a week outside of class where we both practiced. When I say we practiced, I am talking 1-2 hours outside of class! Our hard work paid off. We actually won our Foxtrot In-class Dance exam. To become good dancers, we had to practice, we had to communicate with each other, and we had to quickly forgive the other person when one of us made a mistake (which was more often me getting off step or stepping on her toes).
Diversity is a funny thing. Diversity requires time and effort. Implementing diversity is a dance that requires practice, communication, and forgiveness. Practicing diversity is simply making the commitment to step outside of our comfort zone. It’s something we always want to discuss but struggle to implement because it requires us to challenge ourselves. For advisors, this could mean attending a concurrent session that we know nothing about, taking the time to have lunch with a new colleague, or venturing outside of our offices to meet other advisors on campus to learn about the culture of their offices. Diversity and communication require having the courage to come to the table and join a discussion that may seem completely foreign. They require a person to ask questions and answer questions without prejudice, meaning responding without the attitude of “common knowledge or practice.” We have probably all had the experience of asking someone a question and their response implied that the answer was “common knowledge.” Effective communication in a diverse setting requires openness and willingness to help and include all people. Finally, there’s forgiveness. We are all human at the end of the day. More often than not, our intentions come from a good place but may be received differently than intended. To be more diverse, we must aim to be positive and forgive those who may or may not be aware of their own ignorance.
When we commit ourselves to diversity through practice, communication, and forgiveness, we engage ourselves within the involvement of NACADA, our profession, and most importantly our offices and institutions. My fraternity brother, Paris Rossiter, once told me “The greatest work is done from the inside.” He said, “This is where you can assist in making decisions: voice your concerns but most importantly, listen to new ideas.” Bro. Rossiter’s statement has stuck with me since 2007. Becoming diverse means committing ourselves to actively enriching the thoughts of our students, colleagues, and superiors. It means becoming a steward or stewardess to all we encounter. Most importantly, it means becoming better people. This is why I committed myself to the Diversity Committee.
Carol Pollard, 2015-2017 Diversity Committee Chair, has served on the committee since 2012. Carol says:
Diversity is a word that some may feel is over-used, but the intention of those using the term is something I appreciate. According to Merriam Webster, diversity is a “quality or state of having many forms, types, ideas, etc.” Because I am a member of the U.S. American majority ethnic group, many would say that I do not look “diverse,” and I do not feel “diverse” for the most part, but I care greatly about the success of diversity and inclusion efforts for the sake of NACADA as an association and for the world at large. My involvement with this committee has expanded my horizons by helping me become acquainted with many wonderful ideas, people, and events that represent the broad diversity of our membership.
I was involved with NACADA for years before I became aware of the Diversity Committee and its goals. However, I was pleased to learn that the needs of all our members were being considered, and I wanted to be a part of that work. Only when the association is inclusive enough that no member ever feels slighted or unappreciated can we say that the work of inclusion is complete. In the meantime, the trick is finding members of under-represented populations to talk about their experiences and how we can be a better organization for all of our membership.
If we consider the broadest definition of the word “diversity,” every one of us is included in that definition—we are all unique, we are all special, and we all have different feelings of belonging in different settings, times, and places in our lives. One of NACADA’s goals is simply to have our leadership appropriately reflect our membership. For example, in NACADA’s definition of diversity, institution type is one of the diversity areas considered; therefore, since our analytics tell us that at this time our membership includes 15% advisors at two-year institutions, a goal is that our leadership also be about 15% members from two-year institutions. Since these members are currently under-represented in our leadership, we are actively recruiting members from two-year schools to consider being involved in NACADA leadership. This “kind” of diversity is not immediately visible, but it is one of many that we are working to be sure is included in our actions and goals.
Personally, my goal is to have every person who attends a NACADA event feel comfortable and welcome. Hopefully by seeing or meeting someone else who they feel they have commonalities with, we approach that ideal on some level. Being a member of the Diversity Committee, and having the opportunity to work toward that goal with this dedicated group, has been both inspiring and rewarding for me.
Please add your voice to the discussion. We look forward to meeting and talking with people in Atlanta and to helping make NACADA as inclusive as we can. Check out our committee webpage to learn more about us (If you are NACADA member, be sure you are logged into the NACADA website to view all the available information).
Carol J. Pollard
Senior Academic Counselor
College of Music
University of North Texas
Student Development Specialist - Honors College
Campus Coordinator – Texas State University Terry Scholars
Texas State University
Mark S. Nelson
Academic Counselor II
University College Advising
Oklahoma State University
Cite this article using APA style as: Pollard, C., Sotolongo, M., & Nelson, M. (2016, September). Why we serve on the NACADA diversity committee. Academic Advising Today, 39(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]