A Seat at the Table

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By Alexander Gustanski

Editor: Katie Williams and Oliver Hackett

Brian Wigman is an honors college professor and counselor working at the first-year advising center at Oakland University. Brian has been on campus since 2005 when he began pursuing a degree in communications from the College of Arts and Sciences, and a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from the School of Education and Human Resources.

As an alumni, he co-founded Students Toward Understanding Disabilities, worked as a part-time employee at pre-professional advising, and worked with the choral ensemble in the school of music theater and dance. By his own admission, “much of my professional and personal life is tied to the Oakland University experience.”

Brian was adopted from South Korea in 1987. After a year of living with his foster family, it was discovered that he has cerebral palsy and later on he discovered he has ADHD which he attributes to helping shape his worldview. 

AG: What is diversity to you?

Wigman: Diversity to me is an understanding that each and every individual has a unique lived experience. That each and every person has a different physical appearance but also a different cultural background, a different spiritual or secular perspective, a different way of understanding their sexuality or their identity, a different way of understanding purpose or vocation, and a different way of expressing that difference to the outside world and also internally. 

Diversity is not so much a concept as it is something people live. When people say “Oh, I don’t care about diversity” what they’re saying is “Oh, I don’t actually care about those people, I don’t care about the idea that people are different, I don’t care about what it takes to make diversity happen, or what it takes to make the world a better place.”

And I know that sounds really harsh, except for the fact that diversity extends to every gender identity, sexual identity, every person of color, every person who identifies as white, every person who identifies as male. Diversity is something that flows through each of us, it is a living tangible thing, and so we can’t simply say that we don’t care about it because everyone has lived it.

AG: What does inclusion mean to you?

Wigman: By definition, inclusion is bringing everyone in, making sure everyone has a place, making sure everyone has the ability to get in the door. And I think inclusion is deceptive, if we look at inclusion as simply “Well we included them.” (We have to ask) “We included the LGBTQI+ community in dialogues, we included those with disabilities in dialogues, have we made a difference? Have we made an impact?”

I think inclusion has to be just like diversity, has to be lived constantly. You have to be really intentional about how we’re including people right? You don’t want to be tokenized. 

AG: If you could change or improve one thing about the world, what would it be?

Wigman: I would love to see everyone have food. I love sharing a meal, it is incredibly important to me as someone who was raised in a family that ate at the table together, as someone who has friends that come over to eat at the table, COVID permitting, it is so important to share.

There are individuals who don’t get enough food or enough nutritious food, and my dream would be to put food on the table for everyone and create an environment where everyone could sit down at the table and have nutritious sustenance and have a place where they could belong whatever that means, spiritually, religiously, culturally, in terms of gender, race, identity, having a place to eat and having a place to belong would make the world a better place. 

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