Vincent Gaddis, PhD, began teaching at Elgin Community College this past August, but he is no stranger to the campus and the work being done to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion within the classroom and community. In fact, he has been a driving force behind it. Over the past 15 years, through his friendship with Professor Clark Hallpike and retired professor Joyce Fountain, Gaddis has been invited to ECC to deliver presentations and lectures, including the 2013 MLK breakfast keynote speaker. As a member of the Multicultural and Global Initiatives Committee (MAGIC), just this past year alone, he has given several presentations on various race issues.
As a new faculty member of ECC, Gaddis is ready to incorporate his vast experience surrounding EDI efforts directly into the curriculum. He hopes to add courses on African civilization, Global Africa, and a study abroad component. “In terms of equity, diversity, and inclusion, the key on that from a curricular point of view is simply getting students of different backgrounds to be exposed to different cultures, histories and perspectives, which is a fundamental part of any EDI work,” said Gaddis. Those fundamentals ask questions such as, what is the complete history of an issue or event? What are the issues, and where do they stem from? From the perspective of an Africana Studies program, “once a student is exposed to the history or travels to Africa, their perspective is forever changed. This is what I hope to do.”
Gaddis’ determination in bringing EDI efforts directly into the curriculum focuses on inclusion, not only in obvious subjects such as history, but all areas of education. “From our perspectives as educators, we sit back and ask ourselves whether we are being equitable and fair in our teaching. I would hope we are past that,” said Gaddis. “The question is, where is the inclusion within the curriculum? How do we be inclusive within the cultural context of what we are doing and remain faithful to get the content that is necessary for these areas to be done?”
Gaddis breaks down the necessity of fostering cultural awareness within a college campus to two fundamentals. The first is that institutions need to recognize and deal with the fact that historically there have been populations that have been marginalized. “I think it is important that institutionally, if we believe in equality, then we have to believe in equity. That there must be systemic change, so we all have a truly equal shot at being successful,” said Gaddis. The second fundamental is that we live in a pluralistic society where we do not look the same or share the same stories. “We live in a country that has promoted a narrative about what it means to be an American, which does not embrace the reality of our diversity. But, we cannot just stay at diversity and recognize that I don’t look like you look,” said Gaddis. “We acknowledge that and need to move from diversity to inclusion. That is the key pedagogical step.”
In his teaching career, bringing inclusive content into his classrooms has greatly impacted his students’ lives, changing their perspectives and even the direction they chose with their education and careers. Gaddis taught about the women spies and their impact during the Revolutionary War during one class. One student who was a biology major became so interested and excited to learn about the significance and contributions of these women that she made the decision to change her major to history, proceeding to earn a doctorate in early American history studying the impact and contributions of women in education in 18th century America.
Gaddis’ work to include the whole story within his teaching context also deeply affected a former student who grew up in an all-white and very conservative town. He took Gaddis’ African American history class and was immediately skeptical because he was hearing things he had not yet been exposed to during his upbringing. When the course ended, the student had a list of books he wanted to read to learn more and was ready to join the NAACP. He began having countless conversations with friends and family on what he had learned because he felt he couldn’t ‘un-see’ the issues. He currently works as a middle manager for a tech company and is the leader in pushing the company on equity.
Through his long history and continued dedication to MAGIC, and intention to deliver new classes to increase cultural awareness for ECC students, Gaddis is a force in creating the necessary changes needed within education and the lives of his students.
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