Embracing “L’esperance”—Tomorrow is Going to be Great
Inspired by the remarkable collection of students, faculty and staff at MCTC, Whitney Harris, executive director of diversity, has a strong sense of respect for the power of education present within the walls of the College. Whitney joined MCTC during the summer of 2013 to engage students, faculty and staff in enhancing their professional development and training. He is also spearheading an equity task force to develop and implement planning to support student success and increase educational equity. To back the initiatives, he is engaging people both at MCTC and within the broader community.
“Hearing students articulate where they are going and how they are moving to the next level is exciting,” said Whitney. “Each individual comes to the College with their own personal experience, and the stories they share are amazing and diverse.”
Whitney’s own story runs deep. As the son of civil rights activists in Louisiana, Whitney developed an interest in diversity early on and was exposed to an array of topics including ability, race and gender. At school and in his community, Whitney advocated on behalf of his sister with disabilities. He also participated in civil rights marches and demonstrations alongside family members to encourage awareness for important issues, and he watched his mother tirelessly advocate for civil and women’s rights.
Whitney is extremely connected to his family, and often recalls a blessed relationship with his great-grandmother who was six years old when the U.S. outlawed slavery. He vividly recalls conversations with her in which she shared memories of her own mother feeding neighborhood children—many of whom had scars from abuse. “When my great-grandmother was a child, she didn’t realize her friends were slaves, nor did she realize the magnitude of their experience,” said Whitney. “What she remembered was the care her family—especially her mother—took with them to help meet their basic needs.”
It is the same care Whitney brings to his work at MCTC. “It has been important for me to recognize there are no magical formulas for human issues,” said Whitney. “Regardless of how we feel about another person’s beliefs, it is important to recognize it is real for them.” Whitney believes we need to experience controversial issues from a sense of justice that is accomplished when we live and work in a just manner. “I can use my own response to make a difference for others,” said Whitney. “This can be humbling, yet gives me an opportunity to learn from others and enjoy each moment.”
Whitney has experience across academic disciplines including special education, psychology, theology, sociology and philosophy. He is active in his community and stays involved with many organizations including the American Men’s Studies Association, Southern Poverty and Law Center, African American Leadership Forum and OutFront Minnesota. He also volunteers with individuals experiencing homelessness through his church.
Across his work and his involvement, Whitney embraces “l’esperance,” a French word meaning “the expectancy.”
“It means that tomorrow is going to be great.”