Diversity – the condition of having or being composed of differing elements : variety; especially : the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Inclusion – an act of taking in as part of a whole : the state of being taken in as part of a whole (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Some people hear the word “diversity” and they cringe. Many people think that talking about diversity only consists of minority groups complaining about being unhappy. That’s not true, and if you think that, then you are a part of the problem. Also, it is important to note that diversity is not only about race and gender. Those are the first two things that people think of and if you only include those two things then you really don’t know what you’re talking about.But we’ll get more into that in a second.
Diversity is not just what you can see. It encompasses so much more than that.
Even this image does not include every type of diversity that exists in the world.
Diversity doesn’t only exist within the people that you think are different from you. We have diversity within our own families: different personalities, different shapes and sizes, hair and eye colors. Even identical twins are different in some way. As I mentioned earlier, most people immediately go for race and gender. Even if you did focus just on appearance, you could look at two individuals, let’s say they’re both white men, and they would still be diverse. One could be Irish and the other could be Italian. That’s diversity. One of them could identify as Latino or Hispanic, but you can’t tell that just by looking at them. Even with gender/gender identity/gender expression. You cannot just look at someone and assume how they identify. You also don’t have that right. Gender is not binary, it’s a spectrum. A lot of people have a hard time grasping that concept but at the end of the day, how someone identifies themselves is more important than how you think they should identify….except in the case of Rachel Dolezal, but that’s a different story.
Aside from how people look on the outside there are still one a million other things that make up their identity. Experiences, ability, religion, privilege, socioeconomic status, age, and so much more.
I helped out with a diversity presentation for the orientation leaders and we had them write down some of their thoughts on a note card. One of them basically asked if students of color want to be included then why do they sit together in class or in the cafeteria? Here’s what I would’ve said to that person: Why do white people do it? I mean, it’s the same thing right? Why do I have to go out of my way to force you to include me? Why do I have to be the one to take that first step? People don’t sit with other people like them to separate themselves from people that are different, it’s a comfort thing. But to ask why minorities do the exact same thing that members of the majority do is a part of the problem.
A group of student leaders on my campus were invited to have dinner with the president of our university. The president is a white man and that is not a bad thing. But as much as he may say that he cares about inclusion and diversity, until he shows it his words are meaningless. Our first meeting lasted an hour and a half and he completely controlled the entire conversation. I specifically asked his secretary before hand if there were specific topics to discuss. She told me no, yet he came with an list of topics. He spent more time talking about things that weren’t as important as the tougher issues that underrepresented students face at a predominately white institution. When the time on the clock started to expire, he very quickly rushed us out of the meeting without giving us the opportunity to ask any final questions. The one question that I really wanted to ask was “What happens from here?”
We walked out of that meeting feeling like it was nothing more than a political move on his part, so I emailed him requesting a second meeting. We chose a specific day that we wanted to meet and after more than a week I finally got a response. We were given 30 minutes to talk. The meeting date was agreed upon about 2.5 weeks in advance. Last week there was a screening of the movie “Dear White People” and a discussion was held afterwards. Students shared stories of how they related to the things that they saw in the movie and how hard it was to be a minority on our campus. The Vice President of Student Life happened to be at the screening and apparently was really interested in what people were saying. This is a great thing right? Well, here’s my issue. This person (also a white man) has an office three feet away from The Office of Multicultural Life, and in my four years he has never given a damn about minority students until now. What makes it worse is that he has a daughter adopted from China. So he boasts this appreciation for diversity but never EVER shows it on campus. He is so uncomfortable around African-Americans that when we walk down the same hallway he walks as close to the wall as possible. I could talk about how I feel about him forever, but I’ll move on.
When we set up the second meeting, he got word that the students were not happy with him. Surprisingly, today our meeting was pretty successful. We got straight answers after being able to actually ask them. Even more shocking was that the answers needed came from the Student Life VP and not even from the President.Either way, we got what we wanted this time.
So why is this so important? Well on our campus in particular, people think it’s okay to harass an LGBTQ couple on campus or constantly call a fellow classmate a dyke. Professors on our campus think that it’s okay to group members of one ethnicity all together, not learn their names, and make blatantly sexist/racist comments. Public Safety officers think that its okay to ask “Why is this offensive? Why am I here?” when they are called to document a discrimination incident. This is important because unless you are a member of the majority on this campus you are made to feel as if you don’t belong by everyone around you. The other day a student asked me, “What are some of the problems that minority students face on campus?” The issue with this was that he put the word “problems” in air quotes. So the first thing that I said was “Don’t put problems in air quotes.” This is an issue because a wealthy, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, white man had the nerve to reference issues of minority students as if they weren’t even real problems. That is a part of the problem. He is a part of the problem. This is the campus culture. Majority students think that the issues that they don’t face are so insignificant that they must not be real, and that is absolute bullshit. What makes it worse is that he’s an RA, but that’s another topic for another time.
Anyway, I’ve started to live by a certain phrase recently and it’s: something that you may not understand is still another person’s reality. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if you agree with or understand someone else’s situation. That does not change the fact that someone else has different experiences than you. You have no right to tell someone that their experiences don’t matter. In that moment it’s your opinion that doesn’t matter. Everything is not about you.
The reason that inclusion and diversity is so important on our campus is because no student should be harassed while walking to class, no student should feel uncomfortable in the classroom because their professors think it’s okay to ask them to speak on behalf of an entire community. Inclusion and diversity is important on our campus because the freshman are already so sick of dealing with racist bullshit that they’ve already checked out before their first year is even over. Inclusion and diversity on campus is important because inclusion and diversity are important in the real world. If you leave college thinking that everyone is the same and racism doesn’t exist and everything is all unicorns and butterflies, then you are in for a serious wake up call. People always try to say , “it’s 2016, that doesn’t happen anymore.” Yes, it’s 2016 but people are still being marginalized for their identities.
The best way to strive for inclusion and diversity is first to educate yourself (and others) on what that means. The next step is to speak up. Do something when you see that someone is being mistreated, and stop perpetuating stereotypes and microaggressions. Call people out when they say something offensive. You can say that you care all that you want, but you need to prove it.
I’ll leave you with this quote: If you remain silent in the face of injustice then you have chosen the side of the oppressor.