Bruce King wants universities to take a closer look around their classrooms. As chief diversity officer for St. Olaf College in Minnesota, King has been involved in improving access and equity in education in both K-12 and higher education throughout his career. His keynote address, “We Are All Marginalized in The Absence of Full Inclusion,” kicked off TLU’s second annual Engaging Pedagogy Conference sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning.
Since his beginnings in higher education, positively impacting both the climate and inclusion rates for historically underrepresented populations in all forms of education has been at the forefront of King’s agenda. His position at St. Olaf College involves the recruitment, matriculation, and retention of underrepresented faculty, staff, and students. During his lecture, King asked faculty and staff to look at the people in the room with them and think about who’s typically in their classroom.
“Diversifying has to be intentional,” he said. “When I started in campus activities at Hope College more than 30 years ago, there were only 15 students of color out of 2,400. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and I was part of a historically black fraternity in school. I’d never had a sense of being outside my community, but I was on this campus.”
That experience made him realize he wanted a professional career dedicated to moving people from the margins and making sure everyone was included in campus culture. For King, that mindset must come from the top and be guided by university leaders.
“It starts with providing access to poorer kids whose lives will be enriched by attending college,” he said. “Then we need to ask ourselves how we welcome difference on campus. This can be through cultural centers or celebrations of Black History and Hispanic Heritage month. Celebrating their culture makes them feel welcome. Then we ask how we can put this into our academics with something like an Ethnic Studies or Black Studies course.”
While including and welcoming diversity is great and necessary, King said it’s not enough to stop there.
“Students today demand ownership in their university,” he said. “They don’t only want to be relevant during Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month. They want to know their lives matter and how their needs will be addressed. They’re asking, ‘Do I belong here?’ Universities should be held accountable for this and be able to answer them.”
He agrees that conversations about race, class, sexual orientation, and gender can be difficult. Although it might be a struggle, these conversations should happen.
“We often go silent and we don’t want to offend,” he said. “It’s only through these conversations that we can go from celebrating diversity to living the truth around it. Universities can’t have excellence if diversity isn’t a part of everything we do. We’ve got to get this right. Young people are counting on us to do better.”
More about Mr. Bruce King
King joined the senior administrative team at St. Olaf College in 2008, after leaving the University of South Dakota where he served as assistant vice president for academic affairs and chief diversity officer. He has both a bachelor’s of science in sociology and social work and a Master of Social Work from the University of Iowa.