What society can learn from the military about diversity

BY LAURA MULROONEY, Neighborhood News Bureau

ST. PETERSBURG –“After about two weeks you find strength through your diversity,” as former Navy Petty Officer Donald Holly anecdotally recalled his time spent drifting through the depths of the ocean in a submarine. “You learn to identify the things that don’t really matter… then you learn to appreciate those things.”

A panel of three former military leaders convened Thursday night for the “Shades of Green,” discussion on diversity in the United States Military at Stetson University College of Law.

diversity sub, featuredHolly’s sentiment characterized the tone of the 90-minute discussion, with little to no disagreement from the other two panelists, retired Army Col. DJ Reyes, and retired Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Terry Nealy.

Although they were products of vastly different backgrounds the innate camaraderie and mutual respect was apparent. As with most military driven events, the panel of strangers conversed as if they had known each other for ages.

Socioeconomic status, gender, race, and sexuality were just a few defining factors of diversity discussed Thursday evening.

Due to the expansive nature of the military, a single-culture environment is not a prospect for members of the military admitted Holly.

When asked by moderator Kristen Colelli, Stetson Law Juris Doctorate Candidate, “What is the most challenging aspect of accepting people from all over the place?”

Reyes responded, “The biggest challenge is one of ignorance.”

Not ignorance in a negative way, but ignorance in the sense of unfamiliarity, he clarified. According to Reyes, the members of the military are trained to fit one common model. It is difficult to keep one’s individuality in the process.

Communication and mutual respect were revered throughout the discussion; Reyes explained that acceptance and inclusion occurs after lines of communication have been opened, “when respect goes both ways, progress can be made.”

“After work we don’t have to invite each other home for dinner, but we do have to work together,” commented Nealy. According to Nealy, people are wired differently and are products of their environment; the key is to respect those differences.

Holly concluded the discussion by advocating the practice of labeling; he explained that the process of labeling empowers people to represent who and what they are. “To level the playing ground by diminishing labels we marginalize people,” labels allow us to own who we are.

The panel was co-hosted by The Pillars at Stetson College and the Student Veterans Organization Stetson College chapter to highlight the importance of diversity and promote the understanding of diversity of all types during the American Bar Association’s Diversity Week.

Laura Mulrooney is a reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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