In June 2001, at the village of Mpeasem in Ghana, West Africa, Cynthia Dillard was enstooled as Nkosua Ohemaa Nana Mansa II.
“To be enstooled,” she explains, “I was bathed and dressed, then to music and dancing, joined in a procession of the local chiefs as they seated me on the stool that symbolizes that authority. I was named for an early queen mother of the village. It was an intense honor.”
For Dillard, an associate professor at The Ohio State University (OSU), the roots of that experience extend back to Washington State University, where she received a master’s degree in 1987 and a doctorate in education in 1991, and where, from 1991 though 1993, she served as an assistant professor in the College of Education.
“While on the faculty in Pullman, I envisioned a research project on the educational implications of African influence, investigating African cultural carryovers in the U.S. black population,” she says. “After I moved to OSU, the project was funded.”
In 1995, she focused her research on Ghana, taking a short tour of the country’s schools and “falling in love” with the central coast region. Eight months later, she returned to that region.
“I felt a spiritual connection to the Cape Coast area,” she explains. “Then I met a medical doctor who suggested that I visit the village of Mpeasem. From the moment I arrived, I felt it was a place I had been before. I loved it.”
The villagers had begun building a structure to serve as their community center and preschool. Dillard decided to help them finish the job. She bought the materials, the villagers did the work, and the Cynthia B. Dillard Preschool-named by the village elders-opened in January 2001 with 80 students and one teacher.
Why did she help build that school, if she went there to study the community’s educational system?
“I did it because of our rhetoric that education is a fundamental human right. I just realized that should be true in this village, too. I could help, so I needed to. And that experience has changed my view of my research. I now think broader than my desire to grow a vita. I ask how I can serve. It changes the way I do everything. I now focus on the context or meaning-the ‘why.’ I ask how my work can serve a broader purpose, how it can be globally focused.”
Given that wider focus, it is not surprising that Dillard was one of four keynote speakers at the College of Education’s first annual International Globalization, Diversity, and Education Conference, held at the Pullman campus in March 2005.
According to conference organizer Bernardo Gallegos, distinguished professor of multicultural education, Dillard’s activities in globalization, diversity, and education embody the spirit of his conference.
“One common thread at this conference was imagining possible worlds,” Gallegos says. “Many of our presenters imagine breaking down barriers and borders. They want to create a world that is better for more people. We would like to see educational systems that foster communities where people who are different can interact in peace and with dignity.”
Gallegos is right on target, Dillard says.
“We must consider the global impact. As educators, we cannot ignore conditions all over the world. Diversity is at the core of that. Education bridges the local to global and the global to local,” she explains.
“We must enrich our conversation around diversity and frame diversity in its historical and global context,” says Gallegos. “Only then will we understand how people can coexist. This is the question of our century.”