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Difference Amongst Sameness: A Call to Practice Intentionality in Inclusivity
Ibilola Esho

Fine Arts Department Chair and Director of Choral Music, Vincent (or Vicente for those paying attention) Oakes has once again wowed us all at Baylor with his moving chapel speech on the “difference amongst sameness.”

Many of us have heard the trope countless times growing up, but have we ever actually learned why we need to embrace one another’s differences? In his chapel speech on February 22, Oakes brought a new light to the conversation, focusing on the underlying lessons behind learning about differences and encouraging us to better understand why we should indeed champion our individual differences. 

Oakes helped us understand the importance behind embracing differences through an anecdotal experience of his own coming to terms with being different. He “wanted to give students a firsthand account of the importance of looking at others for the totality of who they are” and explained how this can make others “feel valued, accepted, and as equal contributors to the same community.” That emphasis on community has been with Oakes since childhood, and by imparting it to us, he hopes to grow our connections with each other as part of a cohesive Baylor community. 

Oakes revealed that his father was originally from Iowa and his mother was born in the Philippines, and that he has not always been made to feel comfortable with his Filipino side, remarking that he “viewed [his] heritage—what made [him] different from most everyone else—as a negative thing.” Growing up, he often identified his ethnic heritage as a reason “for not being treated as equally as others.” This caused him to distance himself from his Filipino-ness, as he showed in his PowerPoint, and used his white-ness as a shield to hide his Filipino heritage. 

Balancing cultural composition during his younger years proved difficult, and, it wasn’t always easy for Oakes to feel accepted  or comfortable, especially when everyone around him was different. He explains that he only “came to know and appreciate [his] heritage as a strength” when he “was exposed to traditions, cultural opportunities, and other wonderful attributes to who [he] was.” Living in the South, it can be even more difficult, where some communities may be more homogeneous and divided by race. However, Oakes learned that, no matter where he lived, “getting to truly know people and making them feel valued for who they are is an essential element of being a valued part of any community, no matter how big or small.” It is not always easy to embrace other people’s differences, he admitted, as we as humans first find comfort in that which is the same to us. Nonetheless, Oakes remarked that it “requires intentionality and practice” and that “the best we can do is know more and do better.” 

Practicing the qualities of intentionality in inclusivity is an action that Oakes hopes to continue for the rest of his life, even as he teaches others about the necessity of it. He left us with five main points, seeing as “we all have a role to play:”

- to “listen to understand,”

- to “consider [our] assumptions,”

- to “seek opportunities to learn,”

- to “[encourage] personhood, not politics,” and

- to “walk a mile in someone’s shoes.”

By constantly reminding ourselves to practice these tactics in our everyday lives, Oakes hopes that we can continue to develop a world in which we care about each other and the communities and connections we form and that we “celebrate differences beyond preconceptions and realize that a big step in moving past our current divisions is to warmly embrace both our sameness and our difference.” 

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