Kyle Reyes advocates diversity through stories

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In mainstream culture, there is not much diversity in leadership, according to Kyle Reyes, assistant professor of secondary education at UVU.

Reyes, who is also a special assistant to UVU president Matthew Holland, spoke about how the lack of diversity is due to traditional Western cultural expectations at the Diversity Lecture on leadership, race and ethnicity in the Sorensen Center Feb. 7

Reyes shared his family heritage and how his Hawaiian-Japanese mother was an administrator at the Los Angeles Unified School District at a time when women rarely held senior administrative positions.

He highlighted that bridging differences through open discourse is what could help diversity in leadership and that we should try to approach difficult conversations not through emotional reaction, but with self-reflection and reaching out.

“It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s simply understanding the terrain,” Reyes said.

He talked about his own journey of leadership and advocacy from financially advising students in underrepresented communities and running UVU’s Latino Initiative, to his appointed position as an assistant to the president for inclusion. Reyes also has a background in graffiti street art.

“I like to promote visual counter-storytelling or using images, art and symbols to tell stories that have been historically ignored, undervalued, or even silenced.”

As the only person of color on president Holland’s cabinet, Reyes continued his passion for social advocacy and justice. This lead to his findings with opportunity gaps in leadership.

In 2012, Reyes conducted a study contacting all eight public institutions of higher education in Utah and found that 15 of the 305 senior administrators at the schools identified as non-white. The study did not include private institutions.

Reyes also organized interviews from his colleagues and friends over the years, which included their experiences as people of color in administrative positions. Their stories exposed the lack of understanding and diversity in leadership in the culture of higher education and how people of color consistently navigate through multiple identities. The general constant negotiation is between Western credibility and one’s own cultural ties.

Reyes said that all nine people of color that participated in his study agreed  that there is an  issue with diversity in their administrative positions. “If you’re a senior administrator and person of color, or advocate of inclusion, you’re constantly living in four worlds of negotiation,” he said. These areas of negotiation that Reyes referred to are responsibility, authenticity, voice and hope.

With negotiation of responsibility, Reyes brought up an example that hindered diversity. He mentioned the response of ‘how everything was okay because Obama was president’ and how this weighed on the participants.

“Let’s not pretend that racism does not exist in America,” Reyes said.

Reyes acknowledged the participant’s fear of expressing oneself with the negotiation of voice.

“They self-silenced all the time in order to preserve their jobs,.” he said.

Diversity should be everyone’s responsibility, which connects to the negotiation of hope by reaching out to white allies, according to Reyes. The participants expressed that this was a positive aspect, but also how they remain seen as the dominant group in society.

Bryan Aguayo, a junior biology major, talked about how this event could help bridge differences between students who identify as white and non-white students.

“For non-white students and their perspective, it’s hard to make it their problem as much as ours. Teachings like this where we share stories with the purpose of making them more engaged could help them become more aware of the problems we face,” Aguayo said.