Making Gumbo

Archive for November, 2013

Friday, November 22, 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
Saturday, November 16, 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
Sunday, November 10, 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