Dr. Omar H. Ali, dean of Lloyd International Honors College and professor in the African American and African Diaspora Studies program, has received the 2018 Dean’s Award for the Promotion of Diversity & Inclusiveness in the UNCG College of Arts and Sciences.
The nominators noted that his contributions are a web of activities through which diversity and inclusiveness are the common threads. They include establishing organizations such as Spectrum at UNCG (for young people on the autism spectrum), guiding the Muslim Student Association and directing Community Play! (which supports people in poor and working-class communities) and Bridging the Gap (a project that builds relationships between students and police officers on the UNCG campus). “Professor Ali contributes tirelessly to initiatives in our community, for example the Crossroads program for high school students in a psychiatric hospital, and the inaugural Diversity Symposium with the US District Court.”
Dean John Kiss made the announcement at a gathering Sept. 18, with more than 100 members of the campus community present. Dr. Nadja Cech, Patricia A. Sullivan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, spoke about the value of diversity in her research lab and about some of the principles Ali extols that have influenced her own practices. Nearly a dozen other members of the campus community or alumni spoke as well, including UNCG Police Chief Paul Lester, who said Ali inspired him to increase UNCG Police initiatives building relationships with students.
Ali told the roomful of attendees about a principal seen in improvisational theater. Specifically, it was about listening to and affirming others – and building on what they offer to you. In improv acting, that is the concept of “Yes, and….,” he explained. You listen to your fellow actor, react positively, and take it a step further to advance the action.
It’s a concept to use every day, with students and colleagues.
Diversity should not just be a moral imperative, he also said; it’s developmental. When you are with other people, you are compelled to do things differently, to stretch and grow. “You have to be open to being impacted upon.”
Ideally, he explained, we are good environmentalists, but with a unique sense of the word. “We are co-creating environments where people can grow.”
Three current or former UNCG students noted his impact on their lives, as he was nominated for the award. In part, they said:
“He has given me so much inspiration in my life. He has encouraged me to grow and to keep growing, and plays a prominent role in why I am taking the steps to become an educator now. — Aliyah Ruffin, UNCG alum and current Graduate Student in Education, NC A&T
“Dr. Ali supported me in navigating the emotional and institutional challenges of higher education. … He gave me tools to not only empower myself but to support other men and women of color, particularly first-generation students. –Domonique Edwards, PhD student, UNCG
“He teaches with energy, excitement, and compassion. He has an almost mythical ability to create an environment that is welcoming to people of all backgrounds.” — Omar Obregon-Cuebas, student, UNCG Honors Program
See more at https://aas.uncg.edu/diversity/deans-award.
Photos by University Communications and Nancy Maingi.