Digging Deeper: Using Human Nature to Achieve Diversity- Dr. Maggie Werner-Washburne Keynote at the 2017 DPC Annual Conference

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Contact Info: communications@diversityprogramconsortium.org


Dr. Werner-Washburne is widely recognized for her work with minority students. During her long career as a scientist and as an advocate for inclusion in the scientific community, she has contributed to the careers of hundreds of students by providing them with mentor training, talks, and various tools for success.  After an introduction from Dr. Michelle (Mica) Estrada, her close friend, and colleague, Dr. Werner-Washburne received a standing ovation. She kicked off her talk by singing "Ella's Song"  and reminding us that her goal was ...


“… to remind us all that we need to be working more closely together, talking with each other across barriers and bubbles, and deepening our connection to our history and our communities... I know that, in the midst of every day’s news, each of us is trying hard to keep up our work, stay focused, and make a positive difference. But how do we, as human beings, as people committed to social justice, to forming communities and providing opportunities across racial and ethnic boundaries, across walls that separate gender, sexual identity, country, religion – all of it. How do we stay focused and reclaim our own path? As Maxine Waters said, reclaim our time. And restore our spirit, creativity, and joy in what we do?”



The 2017 DPC Annual Conference attendees were riveted by her remarks. She touched on the current racial climate in the US and how we, as Americans, should find opportunities to connect with one another. She shared that her joy is in helping students explore who they are and what they can bring to the table. Werner-Washburne has worked vigorously to develop deep-thinking, successful, creative, and diverse teams where student’s ideas are encouraged and where people of all colors and backgrounds can follow their hearts and imagine paths that have never been traveled.

In addition to sharing her anecdotes, Dr. Werner-Washburne gave concrete suggestions on how we can all connect with one another by sharing her analyses of work from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I strongly encourage you to share your narratives with the colleagues around you. Revisiting and reviving our narratives helps us see where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. In telling our narratives, we make connections we didn’t know we had, we learn new things about ourselves and others, and we establish much of what we have in common as humans. Knowing where we came from, the challenges we have faced, and the successes we have had helps us trust and see our path forward.”

Through using Dr. Martin Luther King’s peaceful approach, she advocates for acceptance of humanity's imperfections and differences.

“Dr. King addressed many issues, including nonviolence, economic inequality, segregation, white supremacy, and access to voting. One of the major themes in Martin Luther King’s speeches is about reframing – seeing and doing things differently, not getting into the “fight or flight” response, and not letting hate or bitterness engulf us. What he gave to us are strategies to create change by creating change in ourselves first and then, by working counter to expectations, to create change in the world. Dr. King spoke many times of the importance of loving our enemies. His words encourage us to stop and make an effort to change how we think, feel, and respond and give us an idea of the positive, strategic outcomes from reframing.”


Dr. Werner-Washburne quotes MLK’s wise words to seek to love our enemies through reframing.

“He said: the first reason that we should love our enemies… is this: that hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil.

Loving your enemies takes them off guard so that they may be able to hear with their hearts. So, loving our enemies keeps us from being hateful people and love is redemptive, but how do we manage this very difficult reframing or change in how we relate to enemies?

In my words, you want to make certain you aren’t contributing to the problem. Know your heart, who you are, what your values and goals are. This takes time, focus, and self-discipline for us, at any age. And in this process of self-examination, we have to accept our humanity – our imperfections and differences.

Dr. King continued: A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and every time you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points.

This is hard practice. It requires the ability to reframe. To use our creativity to see the situation from a different perspective. It’s easy to see things only from where we stand. It’s easy to vilify an enemy. It requires effort to go against instincts that may have had a selective advantage long ago, but which now keep us from achieving our goals.”

To close off her powerful speech, Dr. Werner-Washburne encourages everyone to share their voice and communicate with one another and above all, use reframing to rewrite another perspective, in an effort to seek to love those that have wronged you or your family.

I firmly believe that if we are going to move towards a world where everyone has a voice and a place, we, right here in this room, have to get to the point where our work lives are diverse and inclusive, where we are all colleagues, friends, a strong team. Whether Native American, Black, White, Latino, Mexican, Gay, straight, disabled or not, tall, short, from the USA or not – we have got to find a way to trust and communicate. I am not saying to give up your culture, but to practice working together as a team. Our differences make us stronger, our similarities make us human.

I want to remind us all to practice reframing – seeing things from different perspectives – and digging deeper.

Together, if we agree to be a community and to find ways to communicate, we can practice reframing together in order to create surprising, nonviolent, compassionate responses to our daily challenges.”

For all interested in reading her speech, Dr. Werner-Washburne’s full speech can be found here. 

Click here for the audio recording.


About Dr. Maggie Werner-Washburne

Dr. Maggie Werner-Washburne is an Iowa-raised daughter of a German father and a Mexican mother and grandmother. She is a Regent's Professor emerita in Biology at the University of New Mexico and Past-President of SACNAS (2015), a AAAS Fellow, 2011 Harvard Foundation Distinguished Scientist, an author of highly cited scientific papers in molecular biology and genomics, and a recipient of two Presidential awards for research and excellence in science, engineering, and math mentoring from both Bush Presidents. Dr. Werner-Washburne received a BA in English from Stanford. After graduation, she lived in Mexico, Central, and South America, Alaska, and Minnesota—a walkabout that led to her becoming a scientist. During this time, she became interested in ethnobotany (the traditional use of plants for food, clothing, and medicine). Maggie spent time in Western Samoa and New Zealand and completed an MS in botany at the University of Hawaii, and a PhD in botany with a minor in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.