Caitlyn Jenner's transition, immigration, police as friend or foe... they're just some of the tough, and possibly uncomfortable, conversations tackled at " Meeting of the Minds," a discussion group hosted by the AACC Social Justice Collaborative this past semester.
And they won't be stopping. The reason for the events is simple, said Nicole Williams Ph.D., professor and coordinator for the Human Services program.
"We want open dialogue about controversial issues," she said. "It's for people to say 'No, this is what I'm thinking,'... We wanted people to stand up and speak their truth." Williams said the group aims to expose participants to other races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and more. "The more you're exposed, the more you start learning, the more you can get rid of stereotypes," she said. "Exposure is key. It keeps all the "isms" from happening."
It's a good time and place for such important conversations. "At AACC we're diverse and we're not diverse," Williams said. "We're diverse in age, educational backgrounds, family situations and where people are in their careers. We're not always diverse in terms of race."
Passionate about diversity, inclusivity, and how her students interact with it, Williams believes strongly that not understanding causes fear and perpetual racism. In addition to teaching, she also coordinates Black History Month, heads a Summer Bridge Program group and advises the Human Services Club and Social Justice Collaborative.
Teaching in and out of the classroom and connecting with people motivates her. "What drives me is the purpose I know I've been created to do," she said. "My purpose is to educate, to elevate and to motivate."
Since she was five-years-old, Williams knew teaching was in her future, and she started practicing early with baby dolls and chalkboard. But, growing up in Baltimore City, she also felt the tug of social justice. "I believe it's a calling; this is what God calls me to do," she said. "I need to operate in His will."
Her position at AACC perfectly blends it all together. "Now I have the opportunity to teach what my profession was," she said. After graduating from Bowie State University, Williams worked in social services, first with a group home in Baltimore with teenagers removed from their homes due to neglect, abuse, or delinquency. She eventually moved on to the department of social services in the family preservation section, then as a mental health therapist.
But, she's always had academia in the back of her mind, and a doctorate in social psychology from Howard University gave her the boost to help others put their hearts into action through human services.
"I love being creative and getting students involved in the learning environment," she said. " I don't want to sit and lecture for an hour and a half. You have to be creative in how you bring forth the information."
She said many of her students are attracted to the field because they have personal experience or an attachment to someone who has had an experience with human services. "They have a heart for it," she said. Many others are looking for a second career with more meaning. Williams said Human Services is the field of helping people: the homeless, addicts, kids in "the system," really any person in need.
To decompress, in her free time Williams is a dancer, who has trained at Peabody and served as lead choreographer in her church. She's also still heavily involved in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, an outlet to do community service.