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College Residency Brings Diverse Perspectives to Humana

Her words were powerful. Life-changing. So said the 50 or so Humana health insurance employees who gathered this spring to discuss “Communion: The Female Search for Love” with the book’s author, bell hooks.

Hooks, born Gloria Jean Watkins, is a popular social justice scholar who was in town as part of a one-week residency at St. Norbert College, a residency sponsored by the college in partnership with Humana. So hooks spent one afternoon at the Green Bay insurance company with employees who elected to read her book beforehand and join her for a thought-provoking discussion. (“Communion” is the second book in a three-part series on love.)

Hooks’ basic message was that love doesn’t include abuse or domination, says Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer, assistant director of the college’s Cassandra Voss Center (CVC). The center creates innovative programs centered on issues of gender, identity and diversity. Instead, hooks says, love equates to an end of domination in all of its forms, including sexism and racism.

The dialogue between hooks and attendees included personal stories about women’s challenges in love and life, the women’s liberation movement and the current political climate as it relates to these issues, says Adam Jackson, a strategic consultant at Humana involved with the company’s diversity efforts. 

Participants reported later that the book transformed how they thought. Some said they went home and immediately had deep conversations about inclusion and love with their family and friends. “That’s part of the power of reading a book and then meeting with the author afterward,” says Czarnik-Neimeyer. Adds Jackson, “Overall, this was a positive and moving experience.”

Humana and the college’s CVC – which is a sister center to the bell hooks Institute at Kentucky’s Berea College – have partnered many times in the past, as the insurer has a very active inclusion and diversity team. “Humana has a broad definition of health, including the social health of the community,” Czarnik-Neimeyer says. “I’ve been impressed with them.”

Jackson says the insurer realizes the world is a diverse place, and so diversity within the company is a must if it wants to be successful. Adds Tami Quiram, Humana vice president, “Varied backgrounds and experiences contribute to the diversity of thinking necessary to reach all of our customers, drive innovation and achieve our goal of improving the health of the communities we serve.”

Like Humana, St. Norbert is always looking for ways to help foster diversity, both on campus and in the community. Its efforts include offering the MBA-level class “Managing in a Diverse Workplace” and various non-credit Culture & Heritage Workshops for adult learners. And, of course, creating programs such as the bell hooks residency.

Heading out into the community is also crucial. Earlier this month, President Tom Kunkel joined other community leaders in a panel discussion at Humana during the company’s Inclusion & Diversity Week, where they shared their perspectives on the topic. “Inclusiveness is in part dependent on open and honest conversations about our differences,” says Quiram, so the leaders’ dialogue was important.

Czarnik-Neimeyer urges area businesses to look to the college when contemplating inclusion efforts, as St. Norbert has access to scholars and other helpful assets not readily available to the corporate world. Teaming up is also a great way to bring together qualified, diverse students with area companies dedicated to inclusion, laying the groundwork for a talented, empathic workforce in the future.

Bell hooks will travel to the St. Norbert campus again in 2017 for a week-long residency. Interested Humana employees will meet with her during that time to discuss the third and final book in her series on love, “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.” Hooks and Humana employees met in 2015 on the SNC campus to discuss “All About Love: New Visions,” the series’ inaugural book.

Aug. 26, 2016