Gail Hairston

You Are the 'I' in the I Am... Diversity Project

Published: Jan 17, 2014



LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 17, 2014) — Diversity is not easy to explain, some say, because it means something different to everyone. University of Kentucky students, faculty and staff have taken this negative and turned it into a positive. Capitalizing on the fact that everyone defines diversity differently and that virtually everyone can find some form of diversity in their lives — whether it is the color of their skin, their religion, their physical attributes, their native language, their gender, their sexual preference, or the region they call home — these volunteers arranged a way for anyone to videotape their own personal interpretation of diversity.


It’s called the “I Am... I am Kentucky. I am Diversity.” Project. And from a handful of UK faculty and staff volunteers three years ago, the “I Am...” Diversity Project has grown into an initiative that has captured the imagination of the entire state. It’s really rather simple; individuals tape a video of themselves explaining how they define diversity or how diversity defines them. Those videos are then collected and posted on the “I Am...” website.


“For a long time, we’ve discussed how important it is to value diversity, and we’ve spent a lot of time preaching to the choir. So much so that most of us have become ‘fatigued’ with the conversation,” said Marietta Watts, co-chair of the “I Am…” Diversity Advisory Committee.


“The innovation of the ‘I Am…’ Diversity Movement allows us to use social media in a way that invites everyone to share in the dialogue, no matter where they are — physical location, level of expertise, mental or attitudinal status — everybody can participate in teaching, learning and discussing their humanness,” she explained.


In 2011-2012, the UK Office for Institutional Diversity began working with a handful of UK staff and faculty on what eventually became the "I Am…" Diversity Project.  The idea for the project had its genesis in the Humanity Academy, which has been sponsored for several years by the UK Human Resources Training & Development unit. The Humanity Academy is a weeklong workshop that takes participants through in-depth examination and dialog of issues of diversity and inclusion, in which they come to interrogate long-held beliefs, assumptions and biases, and then discuss candidly and openly with each other with great respect and caring.


The Academy is run by Watts, whose “many years of experience in the UK community have made her a consummate facilitator of courageous conversations. She and her colleagues have made the "I Am…" Diversity Project an invaluable asset to the diversity effort across campus and in the community,” said Judy “JJ” Jackson, UK vice president for institutional diversity. “The academy’s utilitarian value in easing the way for people to talk about diversity has made it critical to our development of a line-up of cross-campus training modules around diversity and inclusion issues.”


The Project Group plans to schedule campuswide onsite training in 2014. However, UK President Eli Capilouto could not wait; he has already taped and submitted his video, which recounts his childhood memories of the civil rights movement in his native Alabama.  Go to the “I Am” website and click “responses” to view videos by various participants.


“I am so proud of this project and the people who collaborated to bring it to fruition. The ‘I’ in the title of this movement immediately lets people know that we want their human contribution to be acknowledged and showcased in identifying the many communities that make up the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the world,” Jackson said.


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