From the editor:

Different.

July 12, 2013

This week's "From the Editor" comes from guest blogger Jim Peck, Big Ten Network executive producer and director of University Photography and Videography at MSU.

"I dedicate myself to celebrating what makes each of us different and using that difference as a tool to create, educate and travel the world."

These are words from Will "The Poet" Langford. He’s a really, really cool guy. His words are part of the introduction to the spoken-word piece, "Schooled." I’d like to think those words apply to me, too.

My whole job is finding compelling stories for you and then telling them to you. Sometimes it’s through words, sometimes through still photographs, often it’s video. My team and I travel the global road digging out those stories and telling them. I’m looking for what’s “different” because “different” is interesting.

Seems it used to be the word “different” was almost a kind of code for something scary or wrong or weird. Not like us. But those days are gone, right? Well, maybe not.

The piece you’ll see from Will is about being different and finding your place. His words describe alienation, a struggle for acceptance (or at least to be left alone) and a sense of community he says can be found here at MSU. He makes me believe that’s part of what it means to be a Spartan. To welcome, accept and be accepted.

The word “diversity” is in my face almost every day. Sometimes it feels like it’s being used as a battering ram and sometimes it feels like seduction. In the news I am told we need to legislate and enforce diversity and then moments later I am told we need to celebrate diversity and welcome diverse people into our lives. So diversity is a weapon and a warm cocktail party? Maybe it can be both.

Some people seem to want diversity…unless it’s the wrong kind of diversity. That’s a big part of the news right now. Right now, I’m watching news of Supreme Court rulings that repeal the California ban on same-sex marriage and that grant more rights to same-sex couples. I see celebration from those in favor and anger and outrage from those who disapprove.

I’m also watching the news for word of the health of a living icon of diversity and human rights, Nelson Mandela. In the 80s, I went to a bunch of concerts where it seemed like everyone was talking about human rights and Amnesty International and singing about people like Stephen Biko and Nelson Mandela. I listened to Bono, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen as they told me about diversity and the need for activism. I bought their albums (yes, albums) but I didn’t join any causes.

Mandela is still in my life. He's in the news and there is a fellowship that bears his name here at MSU. Cajean “CJ” Iheka was awarded the 2013 Nelson Mandela Museum/Michigan State University Museum Curatorial Fellowship. CJ's currently in Eastern Cape, South Africa. Read his personal account in the Faculty Voice>>.

Diversity is part of my home life as well. I live in Okemos, right next to East Lansing. A couple of weeks ago I got the classroom assignment for my son, Liam, who’s heading into second grade. His new teacher was revealed to me, as were his classmates. Reading down the list of kids in his class felt like reading through a list of United Nations representatives. I’m used to these names. I know how to pronounce them and so does Liam. To me, these foreign names still sound like foreign names. But to Liam, and to my two girls, they are as regular as John, Mary, Jose and Esperanza were to me when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles.

The classrooms of my children are so culturally rich, even compared to what I experienced in L.A. What I think is cool is that the kids don’t ever even think about it. Oh, they know the kids come from different countries and speak different languages, but to my kids, they don’t seem so different.

We have had some interesting discussions about classmates from Africa and classmates who are African-American. My older daughter, Lauren, gets that. But the littles (as I call them) can’t figure out why some of the kids are African-American and some are just African. And they also can’t figure out why some of the Asian kids speak Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese but why some of the kids who are from Asian families can’t.

My children are interested in this stuff and we talk about it and the kids talk about it with each other. And no one is forcing them or seducing them into talking about it or accepting it, it’s just the lives they are living. Obviously, this diversity is because we live near MSU. This campus is a living, breathing global city. So it’s no wonder the nearby communities are an extension of that.

Diversity. I keep thinking about what it really means. On campus and around the world there are a lot of differences, a lot of diversity. Maybe I’m making some of you mad using “different” as a synonym for “diverse.” The thesaurus also says I could choose “contradictory” or even “unequal.” Would you like those better? “Unequal” really surprises me. I feel like we talk about equality when we talk about diversity. “Unequal” feels negative. Maybe I can see some of that in Will’s piece. Maybe I can hear his words telling me that “diversity” means “different” means “unequal.” Maybe that’s something “diverse” people feel. Something to think hard about.

Elliot Zirulnik sure seems to want equality. In this week's Student View>>, he asks us, "When you hear the word 'disability,' what thoughts run through your mind?" "Disability" seems equally as negative as "unequal." Makes me wonder about substituting "different" for "disability." Perhaps it's better to think of someone with a "disability" as just having different abilities as opposed to being somehow less because of them. Elliot wants to "…heighten the greater community's awareness of the critical role persons with disabilities play at MSU."

I started this off with words from Will, words about creating, teaching and roaming the world. Will's over in Kenya now, working with kids. I follow his feed on Facebook and love seeing this Spartan living a rich, full life. Letting his dreams "burn," as he tells us in "Schooled." His words mean a lot to me, and maybe they will to you, if you also want to embrace the unfamiliar and experience great things.

Jim Peck