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Diversity Director Reflects on MLK Day

Okay, it’s time to reflect. Thinking, thinking… What should I say? Focus, Tarah, focus. What should I write? Let’s see, I wonder what they want to hear? Do they want to hear about how I got here? To Deerfield Academy—or how I got to this place in my life? Do you think they care that my dad was with MLK Jr. on his final day at the Lorraine Motel, or that I grew up hearing stories about race and equality or the lack thereof ?

What about knowing that my parents were told to sit and/or stand in places that were separated from those with different skin colors? That my mother was one of the first non-white students to attend Michigan State University; her experience was nothing like mine. Do you think they want to know that I grew tired of hearing about the Civil Rights movement when I was a teenager because in my privileged, private high school world, the only important things were if you had the newest leather motorcycle boots or Coach messenger bag? Do they want to know I had so many Jewish friends that I wanted my own Bat Mitzvah, but settled for a “Super Sweet 16”–yeah, MTV, I did it first!

That I truly did grow up blind—blind of color, blind of socioeconomic status, blind of gender—just blind?

What about my first job in college admissions, Director of Multi- Ethnic Recruitment, which aimed to bring more students of color to the rural bubble that is Bard College? Then six years later (adding oversight of a college opportunity program to my business card), increasing an underrepresented student population from six percent to 16.8 percent—Bard had never been so diverse. Did they really want to be? I ask because it was not impossible to be, yet it had never been done.

Stop—question: What is “diversity”? Is it just about race? Why do we assume it is just black and white? It’s supposed to be about equality and equal access, not just skin color. MLK Jr. did not devote his life to race; he devoted his life to equality. To equal wages for all, to equal access to education, to the right to date, love and marry whomever we choose. Do I think they get that? How can I get them to see it’s bigger than just race and that it’s as relevant now as it was on April 4, 1968? Will they even know that was the day MLK Jr. was assassinated, or will I have to tell them?

It’s funny, I used to tell my dad that his tales of race and equality were not relevant to me—“that was then and this is now,” I would say while sitting at the kitchen table. My father just looked at me, shaking his head. Yet right now I find myself sitting here, at my kitchen table reflecting, typing and realizing that “then is now.”