Photo and Story by Tiffany Brady / Contributing Writer
Interim Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and MTSU English Professor Newtona Johnson spoke in the Honors Building’s amphitheater on Monday in contribution to the Spring Honors Lecture Series, Rhetoric in Contemporary Culture, an event held by the Honors College every semester.
Johnson was the former director of Women and Gender Studies at MTSU and spent most of her college research studying the subject. Johnson delivered her keynote speech, The Rhetoric of Belonging and it’s Impact in Higher Education.
Johnson’s speech correlated the integration of a student’s involvement to his or her success in college, while mainly presenting the challenges minorities are faced with in higher education.
Johnson promoted Benedict Anderson’s “Horizontal Comradeship” theory to relate the sense of togetherness that is needed in a population.
“Do all social groups of the nation feel connected in equal terms?” Johnson asked. “That there’s a sense of fellowship? There’s mutual support? I’m sure you all agree that’s not the case.”
She then described what it meant to not be equal in society.
“There’s a flip side of belonging, which is otherness,” she said. “To be the other, you are not quite in the margins.”
In her speech, Johnson also explained the impact of changing demographics.
“Those considered social minorities are becoming the majority,” she said.
Johnson correlated the changing of demographics with driving agents, including non-profit organizations such as Complete College America and the Lumina Foundation, and she focused on Tennessean contributions with organizations like Drive to 55, TN Promise and TN Reconnect. These organizations have made it possible for minorities and non-traditional populations to earn a college degree.
Johnson then made her main claim.
“Those who have a sense of belonging stay connected to the services and ‘don’t drop’,” she said.
Along with her main claim regarding the need for connection, Johnson explained that the rate of integration decreases with first generation college students, evening students, veterans and other minorities.
“Minority students don’t feel connected. When the faculty is not at the ratio of diversity to the students, minorities do not feel like faculty understand what they have been through,” she said.
Johnson acknowledged the issues regarding the integration of groups and social classes.
“MTSU studies show that people do not interact outside their group,” she said. “If you look at your group, and they all look like you, you are not world ready.”
The Spring Lecture Series continues next Monday in the Honors Building’s amphitheater.
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