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Challenging the Sexification of Diversity & Inclusion for Sustained Change | Ayodele Oti | TEDxCUNY

when I was an undergraduate at CUNY
almost 10 years ago I was studying water
and sanitation issues in developing
countries by my senior year I was
focused on the unsexiest topic where
people poop I would travel to water and
sanitation conferences and Stockholm in
and Montreal and speak with the world’s
foremost leaders on the subject about
how unsexy but necessary addressing
water and sanitation issues were to
public health and to disrupt cycles of
poverty fast forward to 2016 and I am
now studying or focusing on arguably the
world’s sexiest topic diversity and
inclusion before I define what I mean by
diversity inclusion and the work that I
do I want to go back and explain what I
mean by sexy topic a sexy topic has
nothing to do with sex but it is a topic
that is buzz worthy virtually everyone
everywhere is talking about it it’s
probably a trending hashtag and because
it’s so buzz worthy it can be talked
about one moment and forgotten the next
the CUNY cultural core is a workforce
initiative that was developed after
study came out talking about the lack of
diversity in cultural institutions in
New York City and spoiler alert this is
not just an NYC problem
and with the cultural core I’m going to
talk about how we can move past it being
a sexy of the moment topic to talking
about how we sustain its impact
but first let’s define diversity and
inclusion diversity is simply
acknowledging the differences that we
all have which can be represented here
by the different characteristics on this
chart and making sure that these
different groups of people are
presented inclusion we’re talking about
creating environments where people feel
supported and respected and are
encouraged to participate and contribute
to whatever issues there may be and with
diversity and inclusion although we’re
not just talking about race and
ethnicity some of the most glaring
statistics that we have about diversity
have to do with race and ethnicity if we
look at NYC cultural institutions we can
see that over 62% of cultural sector
workers are white non-hispanic despite
the fact that 33 percent of New Yorkers
are identified as white non-hispanic
furthermore if we look at the types of
jobs that people are doing with the
breakdown and race we can see that more
than 70% of minorities are working in
security and facilities and while those
are important jobs they also tend to be
lower wage and they are not the
positions that are influencing what
we’re seeing in these institutions but
let’s look nationally over 60 percent or
70 percent are white non-hispanic in the
US and despite the fact that yes there
are 62 percent of white non-hispanic
individuals in the u.s. total population
let’s look again at the types of jobs
people are doing over 50 percent of
minorities again are working and
securities and facilities issues and
less than 30 percent are working in
leadership positions and for the
Department of Cultural Affairs and NYC
the CUNY cultural core was looked at as
a solution to address the lack of
diversity by creating a pipeline program
so how did I get here how did I go from
studying water and sanitation issues to
now focusing on diversity inclusion in
New York City cultural institutions well
the truth is I have always been
interested in culture and I grew up in a
multicultural household whereas was
exposed to music and the arts and it was
also the fact that my mom is a New
Yorker and I was enamored with New York
and wanted to be where all of the
culture was happening and so when I
enrolled as an undergraduate at the City
University of New York I was really
excited to jump into all the culture
that New York had to offer and
fortunately was able to do that with a
Freshman Seminar called the Arts in New
York City in preparation for this talk I
went through my college documents and
found a cultural notebook that we were
required to keep for class and it I
talked about my visit to the Studio
Museum in Harlem a leading Museum of
african-american art in the United
States that day I saw an exhibit by
Berkeley Al Hendrix called the birth of
the cool and in it was a portrait of
Fela Kuti a Nigerian Afrobeat musician
and Politico and what I saw resonated
with me not only as a nigerian american
who had a father
that’s from nigeria and grew up
listening to fellows music but that
music also influenced my own musical
taste I also wrote in this log that I
would definitely be returning to the co
museum because of the experience that I
had and I can say that throughout my
undergraduate career I did return
multiple times and it was actually the
studio museum
that was my first museum membership once
I graduated and got a full-time job and
unfortunately I can’t say that everyone
has as as great an experience as that
and I can contrast that with
a trip that I took to the National
Portrait museum or gallery later that
year and they are not short on
depictions of those of European descent
in that Museum and it was a completely
different experience from what I had
seen in the studio Museum and the reason
why we probably see this lack of
diversity and what we’re seeing in
cultural institutions goes back to this
chart where we’re not seeing minorities
represented in the influential creative
and leadership positions that are at
cultural institutions privilege is
rewarded in a sector that has a history
of unpaid internships that squeeze out
economically disadvantaged groups and
where talent is typically source from
private institutions and Ivy League
institutions in the survey that DC LA or
the Department of Cultural Affairs did
one of the representatives of a cultural
institution mentioned that one in three
of their hires were former interns and
while I can say this is the same
statistic across the board for all
organizations we generally know that
those that have experience and that have
connections end up with jobs at CUNY the
demographics look a lot different than
what we’re used to seeing at cultural
institutions for the class or the fall
2016 enrollment we have over 79 percent
of individuals that are minorities and
this is also including those who are
international students forty-two percent
come from households with incomes less
than $20,000 and forty-five percent are
first-generation college students
unpaid internships are simply not an
option for everyone with the Keeney
or we train or we recruit we train and
develop interns to work in paid
internships at cultural institutions
they are not just working in operations
or facilities they’re working with
curators they’re working with executive
leadership and getting that integral
experience that could lead to them one
day having those very positions we also
provide professional development
training to students and alumni on how
to navigate the workplace and we also
provide cultural enrichment activities
like visits to museums and interactions
with cultural sector professionals and
to work to increase the inclusivity in
these museum environments we also train
partners we talk about issues of
privilege and identity and cultural bias
and emotional intelligence again in the
hopes of creating an environment where
our interns feel welcome so why now what
what is the buzz about diversity
inclusion well society is in a pivotal
moment with social justice issues that
are mostly centered around racial gender
and LGBTQIA equality issues and the
intersections of those identities and
there have been plenty of dialogues and
continuous dialogues about this
diversity and inclusion issues not just
in cultural institutions but in tech and
media and and entertainment and what
we’re seeing is that people want to be
included in the conversation and some of
the conversations that you may have
heard about black lives matter Oscar so
white times up but then there are the
diversity and inclusion issues such as
of your beauty standards which was
started as a body positivity movement by
a plus-size model named Tess holiday
white washed out which came after
when the roles that were typically Asian
in comic books were recast in
live-action movies as weight and
recently Grammys so male when of the top
eight categories only one of them went
to a woman really what’s going on here
is at the end of the day people want to
be included in the fabric of society in
which they inhabit and in these
tumultuous times it’s very important
that people feel represented in culture
whether it’s media whether it’s music
whether it’s art to increase dialogues
and move us to a situation where we are
recognizing the commonalities that we
share divisive Ness is exacerbated by
lack of representation or exposure to
other people cultures and thoughts and
so in order to get to a point in society
where we feel that we can have honest
dialogues we’re going to need to rely on
people being included and the culture
that is being produced so how do we move
what’s next while I’m not naive to
believe that one article one piece of
art a song is going to radically change
the perspectives of a whole swath of
people we do know that exposure will at
least get the conversation started and
maybe one day changed perceptions but to
bring this back to cultural institutions
there are three things that we can do we
by integrate I mean that in order for us
to address the needs of a rapidly
changing population all cultural
institution departments it’s got to be
all hands on deck it’s not just up to
human resources and leadership and
curatorial and programming staff to
address these issues we’re going to need
the technology departments and the
operations departments that help make
institutions accessible or finance and
development that control the purse
strings of these organizations and make
things like hiring diverse individuals
and producing diverse content possible
and also interns are going to need to be
involved in these conversations
departments can involve their interns
and discussions about how their
institutions can be more inclusive from
K through 12 all the way through higher
education we’re also going to need
educators that are not in disciplines
that are considered the arts to
integrate the humanities into what
they’re doing and we’ve seen that happen
and an example that I can share is of
the City College of New York engineering
department working in partnership with
the Dance Theatre of Harlem to create
technology that will help improve
dancers performance and if you are an
educator that is in the humanities
making sure that your content is
culturally relevant unless what we as
average individuals can do is really
participate get involved in the policy
discussions and planning discussion and
discussions that are taking place as
well as contribute your time or
contribute your money to let these
institutions know that they are valued
and have your support and then the other
thing that we can do is we can produce
content ourselves and encourage those
that are typically from communities
where maybe they are
aren’t encouraged to actually get
involved so as children who are
interested in the arts we should take
risk for those who are guardians we
should encourage that type of
risk-taking and as educators and
advisers we should provide the tools so
that people can produce the cultural
content that they want to see thank you [Applause]
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