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Whitaker delivers Morris Lecture
Whitaker delivers Morris lecture
Human understanding is impacted by handshakes, eye contact and dialect, as well as stereotypes which permeate society, an ASU professor told a College of Law audience on April 19.
Matthew C. Whitaker, an Associate Professor of History and Affiliate Faculty Member in African and African American Studies and the School of Justice and Inquiry, was the guest speaker at the annual John P. Morris Memorial Lecture.
The lecture honors John Peyton Morris, a faculty member at the College of Law from 1968-1993 who worked to foster diversity and was committed to equal opportunity and justice. The event was attended by Morris' widow, Barbara, and sponsored by the Black Law Students Association.
Whitaker presented the topic, "Understanding Culture and Building Community." He listed barriers to doing so and presented solutions to fighting stereotypes, which can lead to prejudice and discrimination.
"There's no push-button solution or quick fix to any of this - you have to be in it for the long haul," said Whitaker, urging students and other audience members to expand their comfort zones, value official and unofficial education and be humble and open minded. "It sounds cliché, but I would argue focus on having an open mind as part of your daily routine."
He also urged going out of their way to learn about people who are different.
"We train to be great engineers, we train to be great doctors," Whitaker said. "But we enter the work force, and many of us don't know anything about the people we are going to be working with."
As an example of the misunderstanding many people have, he said, "Sometimes when I tell people I'm Catholic, they look like they are going to pass out because, don't you know, all Black people are Baptists?"
Whitaker advocated a pro-active approach of understanding others, which means acknowledging your own baggage and need to grow, striving to disagree without being disagreeable and making others feel comfortable and being someone who builds bridges.
"Our diversity is our biggest untapped strength," he said.
The lecture was opened by Professor Alan Matheson, who was a close friend of John Morris and his family. Morris experienced discrimination at a young age, was unable to stay in hotels or go to restaurants with his family when they went on vacations and was prohibited from staying in a dorm at Northwestern University Law School.
Morris performed well at law school, but was unable to find a job in Chicago, unless he was willing to work out of sight of the clients. He wasn't. Instead, Morris found a partner and opened a law firm and later came to teach at ASU.
"He was an extraordinary man, talented, and his absence leaves a void that simply can't be filled," said Matheson, who still feels his presence at the College of Law.