Voices from Emerge 2015: Diversity & Inclusion

Voices from Emerge 2015: Diversity & Inclusion



Guest post from Emerge Class of 2015 graduate Jarred Gammon.
Jarred is an Account Manager at Influence Opinions.

This video on Diversity and Inclusion was prepared by a team who examined aspects of this issue in our community. Please take a minute to watch.

In the 2015 Leadership Austin Emerge class, “ah-ha moment” is a term you hear frequently. “Ah-ha moment” could be defined, at least in these circumstances, as profound enlightenment. Whether it was gaining a new perspective, learning new concepts, or better understanding existing relationships, taking time to acknowledge and appreciate “ah-ha moments” became a regular part of the curriculum.

My “ah-ha moment” came as I watched the issue-specific videos developed by my classmates. Ranging from economic development to conservation to arts and entertainment, these videos were designed to raise awareness about some of the biggest challenges facing the Austin community. I never would have guessed that the “Diversity & Inclusion” video would shake me to my very core.

You see, growing up as a white male presented obvious social privileges that I was completely oblivious to for most of my life. And then I joined a fraternity at the University of Texas, thus solidifying my homogeneous collegiate experience. When those around you share similar experiences, think the same way, and talk the same way, you come to believe the way you see the world is the right way, and all other interpretations have to be wrong.

So while the “Diversity & Inclusion” group presented their ideas about race, gender equality, and sexuality, I became increasingly uncomfortable (“Embrace the uncomfortable, it means you’re growing” – Leadership Austin). I learned that I have historically shied away from having some of these tough discussions about diversity and inclusion because they were unfamiliar. They challenged the world as I saw it, which in turn produced anxiety and frustration.

I realized my emotional response was an indicator that I needed to make a change. While I never considered myself to be hateful, racist, or discriminatory, I realized that subconsciously some of the things I did, said, and thought were hurtful and made others feel disenfranchised, less than. These microaggressions stemmed from a lack of education and perspective, and Leadership Austin was really the first time I had access to such diverse opinions and life experiences.

As the video wrapped I sat silently stewing in my chair with the new understanding that I was a part of Austin’s diversity and inclusion problem. I felt extremely embarrassed and disappointed in myself, but determined to be more mindful about this issue and my own behavior. I was thankful to have a safe space to explore this issue alongside my classmates.

I encourage anyone reading this to take a moment and reflect. When you consider your networks, do you surround yourself with like-minded individuals or do you cultivate true diversity? Do you embrace those tough conversations or do you shield yourself from the awkward and uncomfortable? Are stereotypes, microaggressions, and labels part of your daily routine?

NOTE: The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni, faculty members, and guest bloggers are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.

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