Knox CommUNITY Week: 'Diversity to Inclusivity'

October 01, 2012

CommUNITY keynote speaker Laura Rendon

by Rana Tahir '13

Author and educator Laura Rendón, a scholar on diversity issues, told Knox College students, faculty, and staff about the importance of holistic education, and she explained her vision for education as part of the College's CommUNITY Week.

The inaugural CommUNITY Week -- conducted the week of September 17 -- was part of the "Diversity to Inclusivity Initiative," which focuses on bringing together the diverse Knox community to celebrate differences and engage in dialogue about issues of diversity and inclusivity.

"I am very impressed that Knox College has taken the time to think about inclusivity, taken the time to think about how a diverse range of students and a diverse range of faculty can actually work together with a common purpose and with a vision of making Knox the ultimate institution for education focused on excellence," Rendón (pictured above) said.

The September 18 lecture was part of a series of events highlighting diversity and inclusivity on campus. Other events included voter registration drives, a viewing of the slam poetry film Louder Than a Bomb with a performance by Amelia Garcia '11 (photo at bottom of page), "World Food Day" at the Hard Knox Cafeteria, and a "No Stupid Questions" discussion.

Rendón is a professor of higher education in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She is also the co-director of the Center for Research and Policy in Education.

In her lecture, "Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice, and Liberation," she shared her sentipensante pedagogy as an alternative approach to teaching and learning.

CommUNITY keynote speech: Students in audienceSentipensante, which means "thinking-feeling," separates itself from a purely intellectual form of learning that emphasizes facts and figures, she said. Instead, it holds intellectualism equal to other facets of being a person, such as social, emotional, and spiritual forms of education.

"If we can see it is our agreements which rule our lives, and we don't like the dream of life, we need to change the agreements," read Rendón, quoting from the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

"Basically what Don Miguel is saying is, if there is a vision that you don't like, (if) there is a dream you don't like, if there is a philosophy you don't like, or (if) there is something that you think is creating harm in people, you need to change that," she explained.

Rendón laid out three agreements, or beliefs, that need to be changed in education to embrace a contemplative practice such as sentipensante.

  • Diversity requires only minor changes to the institution. Some believe recruiting or hiring minorities attends to the issue of diversity on campuses, she explained.

Instead, Rendón believes that diversity "(is) about making structural changes throughout the institution, in terms of faculty and staff hires, student recruitment, building an inclusive curriculum that attends to diversity, working on our campus climate, planning, accountability, and scholarship for the research of diversity."

  • "Monoculturalism" instead of multiculturalism. Rendón further explained: "The almost exclusive validation of Western structures of knowledge."

Instead, she believes this: "While Western perspectives have value, so do other world views and ways of knowing."

  • Focusing exclusively on Intellectual education. She elaborated that this agreement values intellectual education over emotional, personal, or other forms of learning.

Instead, she said: "We need to also focus on students also acquiring wisdom, a sense of wonder, a sense of working with emotions, a sense of compassion."

Overall, Rendón's pedagogy has been widely used in classrooms, but the publicity on it is new. "People were doing it long before I was," she said.

"I liked that broader notion of looking at students holistically," said Debbie Southern, Knox's dean of students. "Her ideas are an introduction to different ways of looking at things -- and I think that is what being inclusive is about."

"We're a friendly place, and to have that be richer and deeper, and to be richer and deeper, we need to understand how we interact with people," she added.

Amelia Garcia poetry performance