Keynote Speaker to Focus on Looking Inward When Facing Diversity

March 21, 2018 at 2:49 pm

The University of South Carolina Upstate will welcome more than 180 student teachers to campus Thursday, March 22, 2018 to participate in the School of Education’s Diversity Conference.

The conference, now in its 24th year, is an opportunity for students from USC Upstate, Benedict College, USC Aiken, Lander, South Carolina State University and Claflin University to talk to student teachers around the state, as well as learn lessons about diversity and the impact it has in classrooms.

Keynote speaker for the event will be Jim Charles, Ph.D., associate dean of USC Upstate’s School of Education, who will talk about diversity by sharing perspective and experiences from his own life.

“I think most people look in the mirror, but they don’t realize that they, too, have had experiences that led them to think differently, react differently,” he said.

Charles will relate his experiences of growing up at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., and his neighborhood being selected to integrate an all-black high school in the area. While Charles admits it was a way for the county to skirt the Brown V. Board of Education ruling, it provided an opportunity he would never forget and would often reflect back on.

“I never looked at this situation as fearful or dreadful,” Charles said. “I really looked at it as an opportunity to grow. I use my story as a vehicle to remind students to look inward and then to reflect outward the opportunities they have had. It brings so much to the table.”

Charles, who has written extensively about his work with American Indians, said that he remembers conversing with them and being asked, ‘why are you so interested in us, you need to figure out who you are.’ But those conversations didn’t come easily. Charles said he spent about 10 summers in Oklahoma working at a store that had mostly Indian clientele. He said one family must have taken pity on him and sort of adopted him during his time there each summer. He would tagalong and learned so much through the things he experienced about Indian culture, even having the opportunity to attend some celebrations and ceremonies.

“Each year, I would look forward to visiting them and would look forward to tagging along with their family,” Charles said. “I learned so much through those opportunities.”

He said that being able to draw from experience helps an individual to be a better educator.

“You don’t have to look too far, take an inward glance at your family background,” Charles said. “Maybe your immigrant grandfather couldn’t pass the citizenship test because it wasn’t given in a language that he understood – that may change the way you look at standardized testing.”

In a world where things happen all around us, Charles said he wants to remind student educators that diversity is in each one of us and to choose new experiences that help aid their growth and development.

“Look inward and ask, ‘what in my life has led me to where I am today,’” Charles said.

Kela Goodman, Ph.D., associate professor of early childhood education, along with Kelvin Wu, Ph.D., an assistant professor in health and exercise science, are co-chairing the Diversity Conference. Goodman said that in addition to the keynote address, students will have the opportunity to participate in a number of breakout sessions focusing on dialect, sexism, homelessness, gender education, equality and equity.