Skip To Main Content

Exploring the ‘Double-Edged’ Sword of Diversity with Dr. Derrick Gay

Could people's differing perceptions of the word “diversity” be the very thing that undermines collective efforts to advance it?

That’s the question that diversity and inclusion expert Dr. Derrick Gay raised to Wildwood faculty and staff as part of his presentation, “The Intersection of DEIB and Global Citizenship.” A highly sought-after DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) consultant, Dr. Gay’s work has been featured in the New York Times, The Washington Post, El Tiempo Latino, NPR, 60 Minutes, and others. He has also produced two TEDx Talks that explore the challenges around the word diversity and the nature of racial discourse.

“How many people feel personally connected to the word ‘diversity’?” Dr. Gay asked Wildwood faculty and staff as they gathered for Intro Week, prior to the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

When few attendees raised their hands, Dr. Gay’s reasoned this was because “diversity” has too often been misconstrued to refer to an identity—a “thing” that describes what someone is, rather than a goal to aspire to.

“When defined this way, ‘diversity’ is something that one group of people inherently is, and another group inherently is not,” Dr. Gay continued. “The result is two groups—a ‘diverse’ group that will benefit from diversity initiatives, and a ‘normal’ group, for whom diversity is often not meaningful, relevant, or urgent.”

It’s this division that limits diversity efforts from making a true, significant impact, Dr. Gay said. Instead, Dr. Gay suggests using the actual definition of the word diversity, which means “difference,” not “different.”

“Diversity as ‘difference’ creates a space where everyone has equal claim, and everyone has equal benefit,” Dr. Gay said. “We are all part of this work, as individuals.”

It’s a message that resonated with Wildwood faculty and staff, while also reflecting Wildwood’s own commitment to DEIB initiatives.

“For years now, one of the things that I’ve loved most about the work we do here at Wildwood is reinforcing the fact that every member of the community brings multiple identities into the mix—race, gender, religion, ability/disability, etc.,” said Landis Green, head of school. “In his day with us, Dr. Gay rightly and powerfully acknowledged the importance of representation, while also driving home the idea that each of us—and the cultural identifiers that are part of making any of us who we are—contribute to the diversity of our community.”

The personal stake we have in DEIB efforts also rings true for Global Citizenship, Dr. Gay said. Using the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals as a guide, we can all contribute in individual ways to larger, global efforts to improve our world.

To illustrate this point, Wildwood faculty and staff broke into smaller groups by departments to brainstorm how they could, as smaller contingents within Wildwood, contribute to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

From reducing excess paper print-outs in classrooms to forming larger, strategic partnerships between students and globally focused organizations, the solutions each group brainstormed highlighted the many ways, big and small, we can all make an impact.

“The intersection of DEIB and Global Citizenship work is integral to truly being a citizen of our world—a world to which everyone should feel they belong,” said Karen Dye, director of equity and inclusion for Wildwood. “The connections that Dr. Gay impressed upon us during our work together solidified this concept and helped us move the needle from thinking solely about our immediate sphere of influence (locally, nationally) to cultivating a mindset of care for our greater society.”

For more on Dr. Gay's work, visit http://www.derrickgay.com, or follow him on social media (Instagram: @derrick_gay; Twitter: @derrick_gay).

  • Fall 2022