Redefining Diversity

Aki Ito

I’m not white, I’m not American, and I grew up in two very different cultures. What does that make me? My friend, who recently told me that he considers himself a “diverse person,” would tell me that I’m a diverse person, too. But what does that mean?

Maybe diversity could be, or perhaps even should be, used for something other than a population— i.e. the individual. Darwin thought that the diversity of species allowed for natural selection, and many companies bend over backwards to recruit a diverse workforce. Of this year’s incoming class at Middlebury, 62% is White/Non-Hispanic, 12% is a non-resident alien, 10% is Asian/Pacific Islander, 7% is Hispanic, 4% is Black/Non-Hispanic and 1% is American Indian/Alaskan Native. But the population breakdown doesn’t say anything in and of itself: What really counts is the school climate.

Therefore, do students at Middlebury feel comfortable and safe regardless of their backgrounds? What is Middlebury, as an educational institution, doing to promote an understanding of others? Is Middlebury an environment in which individual students can face, embrace, and take pride in their differences?

Most of us are different from the idealized norm. I mean, who’s white, male, rich, straight, fit, smart, mentally stable, and funny, all at the same time? Most people, I would hope, don’t fit into all of those categories, and that means that we share a common ground of having strayed from our culture’s definition of perfection. It’s easy to ignore the parts of us that don’t fit into this myth, but that means that we have to suppress, silence, and erase ourselves.

Passivity is just another euphemism for intolerance. Much in the same way that those who aren’t actively antiracist are racist, it’s not enough for the college to not discriminate against applicants of color, or of low-income backgrounds, or of an LGBT sexual orientation. The school must actively recruit and retain many different kinds of students, because exposure is the first step to acceptance. Then, the school needs to actively encourage people from different backgrounds to interact with each other. All kinds of prejudice exist in our society, and our own prejudices don’t magically disappear when we get to Middlebury. Since we all like to stay in our comfortable little bubbles that isolate us from the rest of the world, it’s unlikely that we’ll step outside of our own homogenous groups. That’s where college policy should come in and give us a little push.

By forming connections with those who are different from ourselves and from the cultural norm, we come to accept these “different” aspects of them. That’s when we can begin to uncover the “different” aspects of ourselves that we have buried for so long.

Diversity is, at its endpoint, about the individual. That’s why it makes more sense to say, “I consider myself to be a diverse person,” meaning that you tolerate difference in yourself and others, than it does to apply the word to a population and generate statistics from it. The high percentage of international students on campus doesn’t mean anything if that doesn’t help us reevaluate the preconceptions we have about other cultures, and in turn, reevaluate the way we see differences in others and ourselves.

So, are you a diverse person?


2 Responses to “Redefining Diversity”

  1. 1 Andrew Carnabuci '06 May 16, 2007 at 3:15 am

    This article asserts “that those who aren’t actively antiracist are racist.” This is fallacious logic, and an insult to many morally upstanding people in the Middlebury community. There is another phrase that captures the sentiment of this logic: ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ You are a racist until you attend a community forum or a MOQA meeting or some other ultimately superficial manifestation of your ‘tolerance?’ Please. This is disturbingly similar to the Nazi policy of mandatory yellow stars in the windows of Jewish shops: actively identify, or be punished and condemned. The assertion of this author is absurd, embarrassing and, perhaps most of all, utterly counterproductive towards the aims of a diverse and tolerant campus.

  2. 2 debatable May 20, 2007 at 3:15 am

    Since Andrew’s comment responds with several analogies, here’s another: If you see a fight, and you just stand on the sidelines silently, you’re part of the problem. You may not like it, but reversing racism takes effort, not just acknowledgment that there’s a problem.

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