Dealing with Difference Institute discusses demographics

Tabi Jozwick

The Expanding Cultural Diversity Project (ECDP) invited Wilson Okello to Western Illinois University to be the keynote speaker for the 24th annual Dealing with Difference Institute (DWDI) on Thursday.

“DWDI is an institute that we have been facilitating to bring conversations around justice, equality and diversity on campus,” said Jim LaPrad, professor of educational and interdisciplinary studies and ECDP co-director. “Our program itself is housed out of the provost’s office, and it actually helps faculty create more inclusive classrooms, particularly of changing demographics, and so this is an event that we can highlight that.”

During his keynote, Okello talked about the proverb: “Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it.”

“Our history can show us patterns that we can learn from,” Okello said. “If we are in touch with our history, I think it can convince us or inform how to move forward in the future because we made some mistakes in the past. If we were to think about those things, I think it will craft us a better future.”

Okello invited the audience to think of three words that were important to them, their reasoning behind them and invited five audience members to share their words and their reasoning behind those words.

“Mine are information, confidence and encouragement,” said Holly Smith, college student personnel graduate student and graduate assistant to the Office of the Provost and Academic Vice President. “I believe that if you are speaking, you should be added to the conservation, you should be adding information and you should be saying something that is useful. In confidence, I think it comes from I guess the feminist model, I think that women and girls in our society needs that confidence and orientation, and so I always try to tell people they can do it because sometimes it’s just somebody telling you something. I encourage people too.”

Okello also shared his three words and his reasoning behind them, emphasizing the emotions that come behind the ones that he chose.

“I want my words to be what I want to create, I want to inspire and I want to disrupt,” Okello said. “To create, I want to create spaces for folks to experience things differently. When I say disrupt, I think that there are ways we learn how to function in this world that don’t allow us to do the work that we are called to do, and so I want to disrupt. When I say inspire, I want individuals to feel what they believe within them that they can go out and do it someplace.”

Okello believed that changes to improve social justice should start within oneself, and that those efforts can be made regardless of one’s perceptions of themselves.

“I think as we think about how we are positioned in the world historically, how we think of our own political views, how we think about our identities,” Okello said. “I think all of those things matter in the work of social justice. If we can think of those things, and I think it can help us do a better job working with others and think of what needs to be built as we move forward.”

After participating, Smith said that she felt she learned how to interact with people in these settings and as if she was a part of the overall experience.

“I think what I got out of it was ways to actually engage the audience when you’re sitting in a traditional institutional lecture setting and bringing yourself into the conversation, showing your own production and knowledge and your own experience and presenting that to motivate others to share,” Smith said. “I thought it was cool and maybe I should have gotten more out of the context because the context was there, but I think the biggest secrets sometimes is actually engaging in context, so I thought it was cool for me.”