Professor speaks about the importance of diversity


Emdin speaks to parents, faculty and students about diversity and how to facilitate acceptance of people of color in schools. Credit: Sophie Haber/Chronicle

Sophie Haber

Columbia University Professor Christopher Emdin urged educators, parents and students to appreciate the diverse challenges and backgrounds that students of color bring to school at the Southern California People of Color in Independent Schools event entitled “Rethinking Diversity” on Wednesday.

Emdin suggested that schools facilitate a young people of color meeting, in which students have a space to express the complexities of their realities.

“You can’t do school work without soul work,” Emdin said. “In order to achieve academic goals you have to have a place to heal.”

By embracing all aspects of culture in this “reality pedagogy,” he thinks students will be able to focus more effectively in their academic endeavors.

“Human beings hold things from their real world, or from there realities, that may not be able to be articulated or fully expressed, but that are carried into learning spaces,” Emdin said. “Those realities have direct implications on how they learn, how they engage and how comfortable they are.”

With prominent issues like police brutality, increased racism on college campuses and changes in immigration policy prevalent in the news, Emdin emphasized the importance of having conversations about racial issues on campus.

“We live in a society where murder has gone viral,” Emdin said. “As a man of color that’s something that’s a piece of who I am, and when I enter into a learning space and nobody around me even discusses it at all, it has a direct effect on my ability to learn.

Emdin is the award winning writer of “Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation” and The New York Times best-selling book “For White Folks Who Teach In the Hood and the Rest of Ya’ll too.” In his work, he comments on issues of culture, inequality and education.

Educators from independent schools throughout Los Angeles, as well as members of the school community, attended the event.

“I think this is an important conversation, especially for Harvard-Westlake to have, because we’re taking steps to increase our awareness on diversity and what we can do to be better in that regard,” Daniel Varela ’18 said. “I feel like this event is very important to give a general understanding to people, our faculty, teachers and parents specifically, to know what we deal with as students who are categorized in the diversity department.”

When introducing Emdin, President Rick Commons spoke about the school’s commitment to diversity, citing the mission statement and chief vision statement that promises to ensure that every member of the community feels an equal sense of belonging.

“In my short time at Harvard-Westlake we have really leaned in to work on diversity and inclusion,” Common said. “That’s hard work and we know we have a lot of work to do, which is why a number of us are [at the Rethinking Diversity event] to learn and grow.”