Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Celebrating Our Differences

Educating ourselves, each other, and our students on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a vital part of not only how we serve each other at Kettering College but also how we serve others, no matter where we are.

Dr. Shanese Higgins, OTD Director and Associate Professor, has been an integral part of the DEI discussions over the past several years on our campus’s DEI committee as well as nationwide on the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) DEI committee where she serves as the vice chair and has helped author their strategic plan.

She was an invited speaker last year at Chatham University where she spoke of the weight of micro-aggressions, or what she calls, “Death by a thousand papercuts.” These are encounters that are small but accumulate over time, often imperceptible by the people who are enacting them but felt heavily by those who are receiving them.

Dr. Higgins has DEI proposals out for next year’s AOTA conference. One proposal focuses on students who don’t see anyone else similar to them in class. She refers to this as “The Only” experience and examines what educators can to do help ease discomfort “The Only” students experience that often lead to feeling disconnected.

Another proposal for AOTA’s mental health conference focuses on being a healthcare practitioner and dealing with racial trauma. Her aim is to educate healthcare providers on how to care for someone whose ideologies are different than theirs, reminding them, “You don’t have to agree with every person you care for, and you don’t even have to like them, but you do have to love them, even if their biases are aimed directly against you.” She admits this is not always easy, but the end goal is education over anger.

She leads thought-provoking conversations that challenge others to consider new thinking. Dr. Higgins educates us and our students that DEI is recognizing others’ lived experiences and history, especially when they differ from our own. It’s an educational process that fosters inclusivity and accountability for our own behavior.

“As a healthcare provider, I don’t want to just give lip service that you have a different experience. I need to understand how your experiences inform your healthcare decisions and meet you where you are.”

Dr. Higgins started the DEI conversation on our campus, and now Nursing Assistant Professor Dr. Cynthia Hammond is continuing it. She plans on committing time and effort to educating students to see beyond themselves to understand others more clearly. She says the DEI acronym on the Kettering College council has now been expanded to DEIA to encompass acceptance into the mission. She reminds us, “Acceptance means showing love no matter what.”

She points out we often live in our bubbles of comfort, not realizing the way we are doing things or the things we say affect others who have a different lens in life because of their experiences. “We know what we know and assume everyone feels the same way. Looking at yourself introspectively is where DEIA starts,” she says.

Dr. Hammond shares a personal story to offer up an analogy for what DEIA means. She says her husband, Robert, is an incredible baker, and one of his friends asked for his cake recipe. He gave it to her, and she failed. The cake tasted terrible, and she could not understand why.

The friend spoke to Robert, and he asked her if she followed the recipe well, and she had. Next–he almost didn’t ask this because it seemed so obvious and almost condescending to him–he asked what she was measuring the ingredients with. She explained she never measures anything. She had always “eye-balled” it, the same way her mom and her grandma had done. It is what was obvious to her, and she hadn’t considered baking in any other way than what she had learned.

Similar to obstacles that DEIA presents, Robert and the woman had two completely different views of baking, both of which were obvious to them and part of who they were and how they were raised, and therefore ingrained in them. The woman had never considered needing to change her way of doing something. Once she listened to Robert’s input, which was so different from her own ideas, the cake tasted exactly as it had when he made it for her.

Dr. Hammond says DEIA is about being curious, which is scary for a lot of people because it pushes us outside our comfort zone, but it is a key component for growth. When we learn, we grow, and our blinders slowly begin to come down.

She enjoys an approach she calls “diversity softly” where we simply start conversations and express our experiences not to preach or change minds, but to share and unite, realizing we share common ground. In a Wellness class she taught, students began to naturally talk about the food of their cultures. Before she knew it, a potluck lunch was created and the students were overjoyed to explain to each other their culture and why that food was so important to them as they broke bread that was new to them together.

“This is not a man-made thing—this is a God thing.”

She feels DEIA is God saying we need to do better. She says, “We get hung up on things we don’t agree with or understand in each other, and then we start being judgmental and stop being loving. God asks us to love everyone equally and fairly.”

Dr. Hammond is honored to continue the work and conversations Dr. Higgins laid the groundwork for. She wants Kettering College to be a visionary leader as we carry out this work that holds each of us accountable for how we care for each other.

About Kettering College
Kettering College is a fully accredited, coeducational college that specializes in health science education.  A division of Kettering Health, the College is located on the Kettering Health Main campus in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, and is chartered by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Kettering College offers an Occupational Therapy Doctoral program, a Master of Physician Assistant, Bachelor and Associate of Science degrees, and certificate programs.


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