By Kate Collins
Last Friday, Union’s new Chief of Staff Robert Kelly hosted an event, entitled “The Intersections of Leadership, Identity and Diversity,” in the Unity Lounge.
The focus of the “Power Lunch” was how an individual’s identity can ultimately impact his or her life on a day-to-day basis, as well as what he or she is able to accomplish with it.
Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez lead the event. He discussed the reasoning behind organizing the luncheon.
He stated, “My office tries to acknowledge as many of the theme months as possible. February is Black History Month, so hosting this accomplished a few goals at once.”
“One of the goals is to obviously offer Black History Month programming, while the other goal is to allow our relatively new Chief of Staff to have opportunities to interact with students on a different basis,” continued Benitez.
However, Kelly does not always have access to students in the way that the luncheon was structured because of his higher-level priority commitments.
Therefore, the luncheon was a great opportunity for not only the attendees, but also for Kelly.
According to Benitez, Kelly has impressive experience in teaching about civil rights and black history. Benitez approached Kelly because he wanted to offer Black History Month programs, as well as give Kelly direct interactions with students.
Kelly has more than 20 years of experience working in higher education. He has been at Union as the chief of staff for approximately four months.
Kelly works very closely with President Stephen Ainlay on several initiatives. He is ultimately a key member of the president’s senior staff. Kelly handles presidential business when the president is away or traveling, as well as manages some of the institutional priorities.
Kelly began his career in higher education at Colgate University and has been to various parts of the country since then.
He has held several different positions at prestigious universities, such as Seattle University and the University of Vermont.
Before coming to Union, Kelly was most recently the vice president of Student Development at Loyola University in Chicago.
At the start of the event, Kelly passed his business card to attendees and requested that they keep it in a safe place.
He noted that students could always approach him with general or specific questions. Students could ask him questions like “why something is being done at Union” or “is there a need to be a change?”
Kelly got the idea for “Intersections of Leadership, Identity and Diversity” when he attended an enrichment program for higher education administrators at Harvard University a few years ago.
His facilitator was Beverly Daniel Tatum, who is currently President of Spelman College and the author of a book entitled, “Why Do All the Black Kids Sit Together in the Cafeteria.”
The book focuses on affirming identity, building community and cultivating leadership. This was a large aspect of Kelly’s presentation, which he referred to as the “ABC Approach.”
Notably, Kelly spoke of the complexity of identity as a whole. He discussed how an individual subconsciously makes a number of decisions when walking into a room. It happens relatively quickly and others are also experiencing the same process.
He said, “Others may judge you when you walk into a certain room just because you’re dressed a certain way. Whatever it is, they’re going to draw assumptions about you.”
“Sometimes those assumptions will be correct, sometimes they are completely wrong. But, in our mind, we do them. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is the nature of who we are and what we do,” he continued.
Kelly then examined the negative aspect to being different and how the identification of differences is developed at a very small age. According to him, “It’s a survival mechanism. But it’s all about how we make sense of it as we go through our life.”
Kelly then transitioned to the topic of diversity on campus. He stated, “We are more diverse than we’ve ever been, but we still don’t look as we should.” He spoke of the four kinds of diversity that are prevalent on campus.
The first is structural diversity, which involves direct numbers.
For example, structural diversity could measure how many people the college may have in a certain category. It’s important because people need to know who is within the community.
Secondly, he spoke of the historical aspect of diversity, such as who is being included and who is being excluded. When students look at groups on campus, they ultimately do not join a group that they cannot identify with.
Thirdly, Kelly reviewed psychological diversity, which focuses on the question of how it feels to be on campus, regardless of what group students that associate with.
Finally, there is the behavioral aspect of diversity, which centers on whether groups are interacting with each other.
Kelly also discussed the cycle of racism and how different aspects, from the moment people are born to their first days of school, could determine how people approach various situations.
He stated that he is excited to be at Union because of “the opportunity for us to do more and be greater together.”