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Diversity-Centered Programming Enhances Cultural Understanding

Gloria Tibbs is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to libraries and museums around the United States.

Gloria Tibbs is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for her leadership and commitment to libraries and museums around the United States. 

Gloria Tibbs

In an increasingly diverse nation it is critical that institutions of higher education engage both their on-campus population and the community at large.  As the largest, most comprehensive academic research library in the Kansas City metropolitan area, the UMKC Libraries have observed this mandate and put into place numerous opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and community residents to experience meaningful interactions with each other on a number of different topics.  I am honored to have helped collaboratively create programming that directly impacts the UMKC Libraries’ initiatives in community engagement.

These programs have largely been conversation-based and have focused on including a broad-based, diverse, and non-traditional series of partners that represent a cross-section of the communities we serve.  The partners bring diverse perspectives, experiences, and cultures and together they produce programs with impact.

Examples of our diversity-centered programming include:

The African American Read-In is a national literacy initiative and Black History Month program that I launched it at UMKC in 2010. It is a collaboration between university staff, faculty, even classes of inner-city high school students that brings the works of well-known authors to life. At each Read-In, several participants are brave enough to share their own creative works!  Attendees report that it is a powerful experience, which is reflected in this UMKC video.

Social Justice Lecture and Book Series – is a campus-wide initiative featuring a nationally-known author that challenges our notions of justice, power, and humanity. I spearheaded the effort to provide students and the greater Kansas City community with an opportunity to discuss the issues in question.  From a three-part series on the residual effects of Hurricane Katrina to the problems inherent in our reliance on fast food, this program series really engages. Discussions resonant with participants long after the talking ends.

Cultural Celebrations Committee Programs – introduced faculty librarians and staff to different cultures through this year-long program of the UMKC Libraries. As they learned about their colleagues’ cultures, participants became more familiar with the people they serve and work alongside. Programs explored the Latino community and non-Western musical forms, among other subjects, and featured culturally-specific food.  The Committee’s work was extremely well-received by attendees and served as a model for increasing cultural understanding at other institutions.

What’s Going On? An Exploration of Global Issues Related to War, Genocide, and Crimes against Humanity – This three-part program series was developed by a graduate fellow in the University of Missouri library school, and I served as her mentor on the project.  Featuring discussions from an assortment of campus and community professionals, the series focused on legal issues related to genocide, relief efforts in troubled areas, and the role of libraries in rebuilding educational systems ravaged by conflict.  Designed to inspire students, faculty, and members of the community to delve deeper into current issues and begin to view themselves as part of a larger, global community, the series also provided me with the opportunity to guide the development of the next generation of librarians, who will undoubtedly perform this type of meaningful programming in their future careers.

No one is an island, especially those who produce programs! The commitment to diversity initiatives through cultural programming was demonstrably nurtured by the UMKC Libraries administrative leadership under Dean Bonnie Postlethwaite. Colleagues within the library provide invaluable practical support and inventive solutions to issues as they arise.  At the campus level, supportive and valuable partnership has come from the Division of Diversity, Access and Equity and other administrative units. 

UMKC Libraries is the perfect venue for conversations like the Social Justice Lecture and Book Series and the African American Read-In to take place, for the library is a community equalizer.  It is a place where everyone can come and have a voice – the doors are open to all.  By providing these opportunities through stimulating and enlightening programs, we are expanding the scope of our students’ educational experience as well as introducing the community at large to a new chance to engage.  It has been thrilling to make this possible, and tremendously gratifying to see our efforts succeed beyond my wildest dreams.

Gloria Tibbs a Teaching and Learning Services Librarian at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.