I have always loved working in diverse environments, especially when they are creative spaces. A diverse cast creates diverse ideas, stemming from cultural experiences and unique backgrounds.
Most of my classes had a range of racially diverse students, as my first years teaching were in Memphis, TN, a city that is predominantly African American. At Jose Maria Vargas University, I was the minority within a predominantly Spanish-speaking institution. All of my students were Venezuelan, and by the end of the semester they were teaching me how to speak Spanish.
In the classroom, I have engaged in discussions of race and cultural differences. I have been openly hated for the color of my skin during these discussions, but without a diverse classroom I would never have been able to understand why that hatred might exist.
With that discussion heavy on my mind, I worked with my professor and advisor Cat Normoyle to paint a mural on a floodwall in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis. It simply said “revival”, and as we planned and painted and worked hard, members of the community would shout approvals or even stop and thank us for caring about their community and, by extension, them. It was the perfect lesson at the perfect time, cementing my beliefs that the color of skin, culture, background, or upbringing is no way to judge anyone.
I have also worked with a diverse range of disabilities, including seizures, diabetes, dyslexia, service dogs, and partial deafness.
On the first day of the first class I ever taught, a student had a seizure while I was demonstrating Photoshop. It wasn’t a dramatic scene where she collapsed and we called and ambulance and rushed her to the hospital. She simply put her head down and her shoulders began to tremor lightly. Even though I read the safety procedures and technically knew what to do, I was always afraid that in that moment, when a student’s life may depend on me, I would panic and fail them. Instead, my instinct and knowledge kicked in, and she was taken care of safely until the paramedics arrived.
That experience was my greatest fear, but I got through it in my first day and learned that I can handle anything. In turn, by reaching out to communities that may never consider design as a profession, we can offer them opportunity by simply educating and sharing a piece of ourselves. By taking design and art to those communities that need it the most and revitalizing the city around us, we can include everyone in our mission. We can show those who need it most that anything is possible, college is possible, and design can be a lifelong pursuit.