Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Diversity: more than just an old, old wooden ship

An Anchor Man joke? I know, pretty juvenile... but considering a white, suburb-raised 20-something male is about to talk about Diversity, I thought it seems right.

There are far more intelectual and lofty publications out in the world that deal with diversity in higher education and I don't exactly think I am going to contribute any new thoughts or idea.

Still, I wanted to share at least something about this new Master's class I am taking through Park University. The class itself is an introduction to public policy and government management. It's the starter class for the larger Master's in Public Affairs and Administration.

As we went around the room introducing ourselves we were supposed to say our name, where we are from and what our future plans were with the MPA from Park.

Out of the 12 students in the room, I was the only white male.

Now, this is nothing new. When I worked in the Kansas City's Northeast neighborhood this was pretty typical. In Brooklyn, I lived and worked in a predominately Caribbean neighborhood. Even at the Community College the level of diversity (while not ideal) is pretty high when compared to some suburbs in the region.

No, what was fascinating to me was where everyone else was from:

Five of the students in the class are from Saudi Arabia.

One student is from Azerbaijan.

One students is from Africa (I regret not being able to hear from what country specifically).

All of them had roughly the same story; they came to the U.S. specifically to get a Master's Degree in Public Affairs and then would be returning home once they graduated.

Most of them said they worked for the government in their respective countries (or worked for a type of NGO) and that they would be returning to that job when they returned home.

That is quite a move to attend a private university in the middle of the county.

I did not want to be rude or insensitive, but as a marketing guy, I wanted to just pick their brains about what drew them to Park or even Kansas City. How they found the program or even how they made the decision to up-root home and family (one guy had enrolled with his wife) to come to Missouri for two years.

I mean, I thought traveling to the Park campus just across the river was going to be a chore every week (luckily I am at the downtown campus just a few blocks from my apartment).

It is already a wild ride as we talked about how different students don't see the freedom of speech as one of those untouchable rights. Even to hear someone talk about America's "drinking problem" raised a few eyebrows (we were talking about the constitution's amendments and recent hot topics).

Buckle up, team, because I get the feeling the ride on this old, old wooden ship is going to be a lot of fun.

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