Columbia community activist embraces diversity

1 year 2 months 5 days ago February 22, 2016 Feb 22, 2016 Monday, February 22 2016 Monday, February 22, 2016 8:35:29 PM CST in News
By: Lishan Guo, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - Traci Wilson-Kleekamp is a community activist who eagers to call people's attention on diversity issue in Columbia. She is the former director of diversity and outreach in MU's School of Medicine who put her eyes on several issues related to race, infrastructure, equity, health care and employment.

"What I see is a very resistant culture to change, and diversity is all about change," Wilson-Kleekamp said.

She told a story of an assignment for elementary students that she witnessed when she was substitute teaching. This assignment required students to form circles of six or less, but the students couldn't do it at first.

"They sat down and talked about this-what happened? Why did it not work? Well, some of them didn't want to leave their friends," Wilson-Kleekamp said. She said what we called "big people" or adults in our community have similar thoughts with these kids, and they go along with stuff that's not functional because they are afraid of upsetting their friends.

"That's what diversity is all about-is moving away from the things that made you comfortable, and working with other people to fix them, which means you have to move away from that place where people you feel like totally comfortable," Wilson-Kleekamp said.

She believes the other barrier that prevents people from embracing diversity is instead of stepping out of the comfort zone to seek solutions, people prefer to have their friends in their teams.

"The way we do it here is we have superficial conversations about why we failed and hope it blows over so we can go back doing what we were doing," Wilson-Kleekamp said.

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce invited Wilson-Kleekamp to join in the discussion and share her opinions on diversity inclusion and race issues with the leaders in Columbia as a guest speaker.

"We've had some great open conversations working with the city, working with school district, and just the university and different entities, in our community to ... how do we do this and do it right and effective." Matt McCormick, the president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said.

Wilson-Kleekamp said diversity and inclusion in leaders are also important issues, and it is more challenging for people in leadership positions to embrace diversity and step out of their comfort zone.

"I'm a little disappointed because it seems to me that their committee seems to pick the same kinds of people, and it is really hard for people to get through those committees," Wilson-Kleekamp said.

She hopes that committees in the community could have a broader understanding that there are a variety of skills and viewpoints out there. 

"It's really about being able to re-evaluate and reflect on what you are doing personally. And then having the skills in your personal tool box to do with other people. That's big stuff," Wilson-Kleekamp said.

She said diversity is a ever changing map, and the entire community should keep learning.

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