Making Gumbo

Fri, 22 Nov 2013

A Who Dat From “The Technician”

    About a month after receiving the Chancellor’s call and letter, I received official notice from the UNC-System Board of Governors.  Now I could tell my colleagues, students, the whole campus.  Starting in the just past Fall semester, I had been working very closely with the editors of the Technician. In fact, already this Spring-semester, those editors had published one of my guest columns, “A wake up call to neo-diversity gumbo.”

 The Technician

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 12:11 am

Rupert W. Nacoste, Ph.D., Guest Columnist |

     I am a Louisiana black-Creole from the bayous.  Just think swamps, alligators, crawfish and gumbo and you get the right picture, and if your imagination is really good, the right smells.

     Delta Upsilon Fraternity had a gumbo gathering on Jan. 16. One of their member’s families is from Slidell, La. and he made gumbo. With his gumbo, he represented my “…who dat” nation very well.

     So no, I didn’t cook. I was there to lead a discussion of neo-diversity. You see, we no longer live in a society where our racial contacts are controlled and restricted by law. Not only that, but nowadays, every day, on the N.C. State campus each of us has some occasion to interact with a person from another racial, gender, ethnic, religious or sexually oriented group. That’s true all over the United States.

     Using some words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I introduced the idea of neo-diversity and got the fifty-five or so students talking. To help our fellow Wolfpackers understand how much and how fast things have changed I let them know that I, a dark-skinned black man, grew up in the Jim Crow South – that time of legal segregation and legally supported bigotry. We have gone from that to neo-diversity where our racial contact and interactions are not controlled by law or anything else. We have gone from that to the second inauguration of a black, racially-mixed man: President Barack Hussein Obama.

     This neo-diversity has come to America quickly. That is causing some people to panic and try to avoid everyday social interactions on our campus. So, I challenged the students to learn to interact across the superficial group lines. Learn now because when you leave this campus, employers are looking for people who can do that. But learn it now, I said, because everybody here at NCSU is Wolfpack.

     WOLF! PACK!

     Though it’s fun, that cheer is empty if you don’t mean everybody on our campus. Wherever we are in America, we have to learn to interact with each other as individuals, not as representatives of a group. If you try to interact with someone as a representative of a group, that interaction will go bad because your strategy will require that you rely on stereotypes. And no person is going to respond kindly when they feel you aim a stereotype at them. In this age of neo-diversity we all have to learn to interact with the person standing in front of us and not with our ideas about the group.

     That night at Delta Upsilon I felt good because everybody seemed to be willing to engage in dialogue and take on new thoughts. For an hour we had a good time, but I had to bring things to a close because my old knees were telling me to go home. 

     Many students came up to me to thank me for coming, talking and making it fun. One young white woman was struggling to find the words to thank me. “Thanks,” she said, “that was…that was…” Someone else standing there said, “…compelling.” The young woman who was struggling shook her head and said, “…no…yes it was that…but it was…a wake-up call.” 

     That’s why I give talks and presentations about neo-diversity. I do what I can to get every audience to wake up and see our neo-diverse America. I want everyone to wake up to the fact that America just ain’t what it used to be. I want all of us to wake-up, acknowledge and appreciate our wonderful, American neo-diverse gumbo.


     Given my strong relationship with the editors, with a copy of the Board of Governor’s official letter I sent word to the editors of our school newspaper The Technician. I was blown away by the editorial they wrote that week.  Part of what they said was:

     In addition to his academic achievements, Nacoste is a strong supporter of civil rights and social justice. His research on interpersonal relationships and modern racial tensions has led him to publish multiple essays on what he calls “neo-diversity.” His classes, often called tough or intense, include his thoughts on the false claim that we live in a post-racist United States, and he challenges his students to confront prejudice on campus and within their personal lives. He seeks to genuinely educate students about these tough topics.

     “Wherever we are in America, we have to learn to interact with each other as individuals, not as representatives of a group,” Nacoste recently wrote in a guest column in Technician.

     “If you try to interact with someone as a representative of a group, that interaction will go bad because your strategy will require that you rely on stereotypes.”

     We greatly respect Nacoste and completely support the Board of Governors in their decision to recognize him with this award. He is a model of both academic excellence — through the respect he garners from students — and civil rights activism — through his willingness to promote diversity and thoughtfully discuss hard topics.

    So Nacoste, this goes out to you. Who Dat?


posted by Rupert  |   8:54 PM  |   0 comments
Sat, 16 Nov 2013

Board of Governors Teaching Award Phone Call

Just after the Spring-2013 semester got started, I walked into my office on the morning of January 11, 2013.  My desk phone message light was blinking which always irritates me.  So early in the semester, this could only be one of two irritating things; a student confused about something with an obvious, on the syllabus answer, or a student wanting into one of my classes which at that point is impossible. Either way… irritating.

Rather than let it blink for hours, as I have in the past, I decided to just hear the irritating message.  I hit the button.  A voice said, “Good afternoon Dr. Nacoste.  This is Chancellor Woodson. It is my pleasure to inform you that I am forwarding your teaching portfolio to the Board of Governors as our campus winner of the Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award…”

I sat at my desk holding my head.

Chancellor Randy Woodson went on to inform me that for reasons of protocol I could not yet tell anyone that I won.  He apologized for leaving a phone message, but I knew that was unavoidable given how hard it would have been to coordinate our schedules given the demands on his time and my own schedule.  He had called during one of my classes.

Chancellor Woodson also let me know that now that he had left this message, the formal letter would be brought to me. That letter would give me the details of all that had been set in motion because I had won the highest teaching award given by the university.

A lot of stuff was about to start happening.  I was to attend and be the speaker for the luncheon at the Office of Faculty Development Teaching and Learning Symposium.  I was invited to attend the Chancellor’s Celebration of Faculty Excellence Dinner.  In front of 20,000 people I would be formally presented the award at the Spring Commencement where I would join the Chancellor on the platform along with “other” dignitaries.  And then there was the thing that caught me off guard. The letter said:

The awarding of the BOG Award for Excellence in Teaching is also celebrated by the lighting of the Belltower.

What? Really?

You have to understand.  On the North Carolina State University campus the belltower is an icon.  It is lit red only under very special circumstances; winning a basketball game, a football game, winning a national championship.  When it is lit red, students, alumni, fans of the university drive by and blow their car horns, over and over.

Now I learned it would be lit red for me as the campus winner of the BOG Award for Excellence in Teaching.  I found that to be the thing that made me giddy.  What?  Wow!


posted by Rupert  |   8:54 PM  |   0 comments
Sun, 10 Nov 2013

Teaching Award Preparation

I have had a very successful career as a professor.  One of the things I am known for is my teaching. So, on the campus of North Carolina State University I am asked to give teaching workshops.  “Neo-Diversity in the Classroom: Creating A Safe-Space” is a workshop I did in February 28, 2013. In that workshop I showed how I and any professor can create a safe-space in the classroom.  Especially in the context of my confrontational teaching style, some of my colleagues wonder how I can do both; be so challenging and have students feel safe to ask questions, and give opinions during class discussions. So in a way I should not have been surprised by the question.

All throughout my workshop presentation, I took questions about the specific point I was making, and then at the end I took general questions from the faculty and staff who had come out.  An African-American faculty colleague put her hand up and said: “You really challenge your students on diversity issues, but yet you have a large following of white students. How do you pull that off?” I was surprised but not put off by the racial bluntness of the question. I took a moment then I took time to give an extended answer to that question. But there is really only one thing going on.  I am a day-breaker.

Just the week before that workshop, I was allowed to let people know I had won.  Fall-2012, my department and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences had nominated me for the University of North Carolina System-Board of Governors Award For Excellence In Teaching. Quite an honor to be nominated for sure, but for me quite a lot of work too. As classes for the semester were ending December 2012, in addition to dealing with final exams, final papers, and grading, I was putting together my teaching portfolio that the evaluation process required. I had help; no one is an island. With the assistance and sometimes prodding of my young colleague, Dr. Anne McLaughlin, I got the portfolio done and in on time.  I was exhausted but happy with every component.  Thankfully, Fall-semester was over and I had no plans to travel over the Christmas holiday.


posted by Rupert  |   10:56 PM  |   0 comments
Sun, 07 Apr 2013

Howls for Howl of the Wolf

Not long after we started giving books away, readers started writing reviews. And those reviews were enthusiastic. Hear the howls for “Howl of the Wolf”:

Nov 5, 2012

It is currently almost midnight and I have just finished “Howl of the Wolf!” I could not have thought of a better title for this book. It’s very thoughtful and meaningful. We, as students at NCSU, are one. We are the Wolfpack! We all come from different backgrounds, different ways that we define ourselves. In this book, each one of us is figuratively a wolf in this wolfpack. Each of us have a voice, a howl per se, and we come together to voice our own experiences and our own thoughts. Each of us “wolves” is different; different race, gender, ethnicity, and religion. However, we come together as a pack and howl out to stop prejudice and bigotry; to help each other in neo-diversity, to help each other in intergroup interactions. I loved “Howl of the Wolf.” I could only hope that this book goes viral and becomes a must-read. This book could open the eyes of so many.

By Ashley Bridge NCSU Senior

Nov 5, 2012

“Howl of the Wolf” is a great book. It catches you from the start. I started reading it at 2.30am and couldn’t put it down until 5.30am, when I was almost sleep-reading. I like that it’s short, fast and straight to the point, the next best thing to taking Dr. Nacoste’s class. For people who have taken the class, its helps refresh your memory and remind you to Howl! for your pack whenever you stray. Everyone on campus should read it! It’s the spark we need to ignite change.

By Carlos Solorzano NCSU-Senior

Oct 30, 2012

What I find so fascinating about Dr. Nacoste’s book is that it addresses the issues that most of us face on a daily basis regarding how to interact with people who are different from us and people whom we may have internalized prejudices about. This book includes astute insights from Dr. Nacoste’s students whom are on the same journey that we are all on, even those of us who grew up in the 1960s. I highly recommend this book as a way to open up conversation on how our society can become inclusive and honor our differences.

By Susan Swan King

Oct 24, 2012

I just finished reading “Howl of the Wolf” for the first time. I thank Dr. Nacoste for writing it. While I have been interested in the themes of this book for a while, the neo-diversity paradigm and framework Dr. Nacoste used was new to me, and I really appreciate how he was able to articulate things I have felt but not been able to say.

By Alton Russell NCSU Parks Scholar

Already, “Howl of the Wolf” was a success.

posted by Rupert  |   1:18 PM  |   0 comments
Sun, 17 Mar 2013

Realizing We Are A Neo-Diverse Wolfpack

A lot of students, some 200, showed up for the “Howl of the Wolf” event.

That event was a coffee house style evening put on by “Wake Up! It’s Serious: A Campaign For Change.”  And that November night, along with the students there were some staff and faculty that I recognized.  But even so, I did not know the reasons that very people came out.

Later I learned that at least one student who came was there to get credit for a course.  Dr. Craig Brookins, my best friend, requires that his students attend a number of events that are relevant to neo-diversity. To get credit for attendance though, his students must write up their experience of the event.  One of Dr. Brookins’ students attended the “Howl of the Wolf” event and wrote it up in this way:

    “I attended Dr. Nacoste’s event which featured student skits and performances and his discussion about the content of his newest book Howl of the Wolf. The skits featured scenarios in which students interacted with someone of a different culture or sexual orientation, but did not handle the situation correctly. We then had an open discussion about the proper way to handle these types of situations and why we think they occur. We also watched a spoken word performs in which the poet described his mother’s life as a maid. Finally, Dr. Nacoste tied in the importance of all of these things amongst students on the campus.

     In the first skit, two girls were discussing their holiday breaks and one student was of Middle Eastern descent. The friend made an ignorant comment in relation to the Middle Eastern student’s culture. The second scenario involved two guys who were becoming good friends but one was homosexual and the other was heterosexual. The heterosexual friend was often too aware of his friend’s sexuality and made conversations awkward. Both these scenarios relate to the importance of socialization. As Americans who live in a diverse nation, it is important that children are socialized to deal with people of different backgrounds in a way that won’t offend them and it is also important for the child on the other end of the incident to know how to deal with an awkward situation and not allow negative incidents to alter how they identify themselves.

     The spoken word piece by Chicas had the largest impact on me.


    The poet, Chicas, spoke of how his parents were immigrants into the U.S. from South America and he wrote specifically about his mother’s life on the job. He spoke of how his mother’s hands were used to make beautiful music back in her country, but in the United States, they were just seen as instruments to clean someone’s tub. These are all events he recalled as a young boy and they played a part in shaping his identity. Instead of these experiences making him view himself and his culture in a negative life, he used it as fuel to make a better life for himself and his family. He was proud of where he came from and refused to be treated like a second class citizen like his mother was. He aimed to bring pride back to his family.

     The book Howl of the Wolf is a compilation of stories written in Dr. Nacoste’s class in which students described their experiences with people from different backgrounds. Most of these experiences showed how ignorant people were. Dr. Nacoste said that we live in a Neo-diverse age in which it is important for people from all walks of life to know how to interact with one another. This is especially important on such a diverse campus where despite our differences, we all howl the same. We are the Neo-diverse Wolfpack.”

posted by Rupert  |   6:21 PM  |   0 comments
Fri, 08 Mar 2013

Waking Up To The Howl Of The Wolf

        Wake Up! It’s Serious presents Dr. Rupert Nacoste talking about and giving away his new book, “Howl of the Wolf” about NC State students describing their new awareness and understanding of neo-diversity. Come join us on Thursday, November 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Caldwell Lounge! This will be an Open-Mic event. Coffee and refreshments will be provided by Global Village.

That is how the November 8, 2012 event was announced to the whole NCSU campus on various web bulletin boards.  Also posted all over campus was this flyer:

You see, NCSU students were going wild for my new book, “Howl of the Wolf.”

After the Psychology Club meeting and book give away, word started to spread.  Students began coming by my office to ask about this book they were hearing.  Some of these students were complete strangers to me.  One male student said, “I missed the Psychology Club meeting because I had to work.  I was wondering, though, if you’d give me a copy now.”  I did.

I knew this was not an efficient way to do this.  But that was ok in the short term because the social change student group I advise was doing the work to put on a major event to introduce my book to the campus.

“Wake Up! It’s Serious: A Campaign For Change” is a student advocacy group that grew out of my “Interpersonal Relationships and Race” class. Fall-2010, we had an incident of hateful, racial graffiti in our so-called Free Expression Tunnel.  That time students were outraged enough to organize a protest rally.  At the same time, I led a discussion in my class, and asked the students if they wanted to keep this energy going.  Students said yes, and over the following six months, “Wake Up! It’s Serious; A Campaign for Change” was born.  Two years later, it continues to grow.  As an advocacy group, these students say their mission

    “…is to design campaigns to help North Carolina State University students learn how to speak up in the presence of intolerance by refusing to be silent when another person uses derogatory group terms. We have committed ourselves to speaking up when a fellow student utters words of intolerance toward a group of our fellow student-citizens.  We have also committed ourselves to creating and participating in concrete educational activities toward positive change in the campus diversity climate with the aim of strengthening the social bonds of our community.”

The Wake Up! It’s Serious” group put on a magnificent event with a spoken word artist Chicas, skits about diversity interactions, piano interludes by Justin Outlaw, with me as the main speaker at the end.

That night another 200 students showed up to listen, be entertained, hear me, and get a free copy of “Howl of the Wolf.”

One person who showed up was a young white man who took my course the first or second time I taught it in 2006-2007.  I remembered him because I wrote a letter of recommendation for him to law school.  For a little while after he finished law school he had kept in touch, but that faded as it should have.  But here he was, dressed like a lawyer, at this event he heard about on Facebook.  He came to get a copy of the book.  He was stunned that I remembered him, but I did.

To my surprise, a few staff and faculty members from the college showed up.  Each spoke to me after the event, and each was very complimentary about the organization and content of the event and the turnout.  I assured the faculty that all the credit was due to the students in “Wake Up!  It’s Serious: A Campaign For Change.”

It was quite a night.  We gave away 162 books.

posted by Rupert  |   12:07 PM  |   2 comments
Sun, 17 Feb 2013

Psychology Club Howl

    So, I had made a promise to the Psychology Club.  I promised them that when I had copies of “Howl of the Wolf” in hand, I would come back to a meeting and give copies to the people “…in attendance at the meeting tonight.”  I was very clear about this. 

     “All of you who are here tonight,” I said, “I will give you a copy.  But that’s our secret, just the people who are here tonight.  So when I have them, I’ll let Heather (the Psych Club President) know to spread the word that Dr. Nacoste will be at the next meeting.  That will tell you I am bringing copies of the book; but just for those here tonight.  Got it!”

   All heads nodded to say, yes.  Then I went home to have some dinner.

     By late September, 2012, I had the first 1,000 copies of the book.  So I asked Heather when was the next Psychology Club meeting.  She said in two weeks, so I told her, “…ok, I’ll come to that meeting with copies of the book.”  Again, I was clear; “I’m bring copies for those who come already knowing that I am coming for that purpose.  And that’s all I’m going to do; hand out copies and then I am going home.”

     I was very clear.

     Then the week before the meeting, I saw this flyer posted all over Poe Hall; the building that houses.


     Not quite as secret as I had planned. But now there was nothing to be done except show up prepared.  You see I knew the combination of my name, with my name on a new book that I would give away free, would bring a crowd.  And it did.

     The evening of the meeting, I walked into the meeting room and it was full and students kept coming in.  Students I recognized from one or both of the undergraduate courses I teach; and students I didn’t recognize at all.

     That night I gave away 120 books.

     Not as secret as I had planned.

    And now it was on.


posted by Rupert  |   10:25 AM  |   1 comments