VALPARAISO | Just because an organization is diverse doesn't mean it's inclusive, a consultant told 340 Valparaiso University law students, faculty and staff Monday.
"Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance," said Verna Myers, a nationally-recognized expert in diversity issues.
Myers, of Baltimore, principal of Verna Meyers Consulting Group, presented "What if I Say the Wrong Thing? Becoming a Culturally Effective Professional."
She was invited to speak by the law school's diversity concerns committee appointed in October by acting dean Ivan Bodensteiner. The event was co-sponsored by 24 law student organizations.
Bodensteiner said 47 percent of the law school's most recent first-year class are "under-represented minorities." Overall, there are 30 to 40 percent minority students at the school, he said.
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While the law school is diverse, the goal is for it to be truly inclusive and provide an equal opportunity for everyone to succeed, Bodensteiner said.
Myers, who graduated from Harvard Law School, used her alma mater as an example to show how diversity doesn't necessarily mean inclusion.
Harvard Law School first admitted women students in 1953, but did not provide bathrooms for them. Instead, they were forced to use a toilet in the janitor's closet, she said.
She said diversity is all about numbers, whereas inclusion is about cultivating relationships and welcoming people. Being aware of diversity issues is especially important for people pursuing the legal profession because it will help them see how biases and stereotypes impact the justice system, Myers said.
When it comes to discussing differences, people's fear of saying the wrong thing often prevents them from saying anything and achieving authentic relationships, she said.
She offered discussion guidelines, including it's OK to disagree, keeping a self focus, staying away from blame, shame and guilt and maintaining confidentiality.
She encouraged students to be aware of how their cultural background shapes their interactions with others. She also told them to get familiar with their biases and acknowledge their unearned advantages, because everyone has them.
Myers also urged students to get out of their comfort zones and expand their professional and social circles, and to use their advantages to "break down a system that continues to perpetuate inequality."