Professor brings diverse perspective to Cabinet
As a child, Associate Professor Christopher E. Manning, PhD, lived on military bases around the world. It was a life-shaping experience that gave him a unique perspective on the meaning of diversity.
“When you’re an Army child and have lived overseas, you actually don’t have any idea about the concept of diversity—because diversity is the norm,” Manning said. “I had friends who were Japanese-American, Korean-American, Panamanian, you name it.”
Manning, who was appointed to the President’s Cabinet this semester to serve as a diversity advisor, came to Loyola in 2002 and has been a fixture in the Department of History ever since. Away from the University, he’s the founder and executive director of Inspiración Dance Chicago, a nonprofit Latin dance group that offers free or subsidized lessons to students and adults. And if that weren’t enough, Manning is also an avid martial artist with black belts in tae kwon do and hapkido.
It’s this varied background that makes Manning perfectly suited to help Loyola advance its diversity initiatives. Here, he talks about his new role, how history can help Loyola in the future, and what all organizations can do to become more diverse and inclusive.
Talk a little about your role as special advisor and what you hope to accomplish.
My role is to help the President’s Office get a sense of what’s going on across the University as far as efforts to improve diversity. There are a lot of units at Loyola that are making real efforts to improve the community and to understand our students better, but because they’re happening in different places, we need to coordinate those efforts. Another part of the job is to give Dr. Winifred Williams a hand in her role as chief diversity officer.
You’re currently involved with several diversity measures already, correct?
I’m working on four initiatives right now to develop policy proposals. The first deals with recruiting African-American students from high schools on the city’s South and West sides; the second looks at the diversity infrastructure at Loyola and compares it to our peer institutions; the third involves diversity training for incoming freshmen; and the final initiative looks at ways to improve diversity in regard to faculty hiring. By June of this year I hope to have reports on those issues with advice on how to improve them in a very specific and tangible way.
You teach courses on African-American history and the civil rights movement. What can Loyola learn from the past to help shape its future?
The civil rights movement showed the importance of coalition building and working across various boundaries. It brought together people from all different backgrounds but gave them a united sense of purpose. It showed people that despite having diverse histories, it’s in everyone’s best interest to work toward a common goal. That’s a very important lesson.
And finally, what are some things a university (or any other organization) can do to make itself more inclusive?
The first thing an institution—or even a person—needs to do is recognize that notions of inclusivity and diversity are not static. They are constantly changing. That’s why we want to make sure the diversity statement we’re working on has the idea of change embedded in it, that it doesn’t just speak to respecting a list of diverse populations. That holds us accountable as a community to constant growth and lets us work toward change, rather than setting a numerical goal and just stopping when we reach it.