James Page Jr. stands before a slide showing CEO stereotypes during his lecture on diversity and inclusion at Monday’s FrankTalks event at the Williamson County Performing Arts Center at Academy Park. // Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
When the speaker at February’s FrankTalks lecture asked the audience to think of one word that best describes Franklin, a few of those words may have brought on a gasp or two.
James Page Jr., vice chancellor for Vanderbilt’s office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, got interactive with attendees during his hour-long presentation on the topic of diversity and inclusion Monday morning at the Williamson County Performing Arts Center at Academy Park in Franklin.
From a website that created a visible word cloud based on audience responses through their cell phones, the most dominant descriptions displayed on the screen were “white” and “wealthy,” indicating they were the most frequent responses. While those two words may or may not have surprised some folks, there were a few that were lesser in frequency but more potent and perhaps face-smacking — words such as “racist, Confederate, Southern, stereotypical.”
There were equally frequent positive words such as “charming, friendly” and “family” — those that might be found in a chamber of commerce brochure — but the negatively appearing ones had more pop.
“Racist is a little word here,” Page said as he pointed to the screen displaying the word cloud, “but it’s a big word.
“I think this shows that we can admit that our ability to engage and include every member of our community is not quite where we want it to be. We have some opportunities to do things a lot more intentionally. … I think there’s a lot work to do.”
Page’s presentation also provided demonstrations of workplace and community stereotypes, and focused principally on diversity and inclusion and their differences.
“You can have a lot of diversity in the room and not have inclusion,” he said. … “Diversity is being asked to the dance and inclusion is being asked to dance.”
In another interactive word cloud exercise, Page asked the audience to think of a word to describe Franklin’s commitment to diversity. Some responses leaned toward “intentional, ongoing” and “engaging,” while others were on the order of “lacking, poor” and “superficial.”
“The word superficial,” Page pointed out. “There is this idea that we’re supposed to care so we’re going to give it a little bit of attention, but maybe not as much as it really needs.”
Mindy Tate, executive director of Franklin Tomorrow, which hosts the monthly FrankTalks events, said Page’s presentation may have opened an opportunity for more dialogue on the subject of diversity.
“I feel that people responded in the moment and offered their honest opinion about how they view the Franklin community and the effort as it relates to diversity,” she said.
“I thought his program was very thought-provoking and really brought people into honest discussion, and people felt safe in being able to express their opinions.
“And I think we will explore bringing Mr. Page back,” Tate added. “He mentioned the idea about coming back and having a more in-depth discussion with a larger audience. I’ve heard a lot of good feedback regarding the speaker and the topic, and I think the other thing I heard was that they want to keep having meaningful conversations.”