Posts Tagged 'race'

What is the Value of Diversity?

Mike Waters

What good is Middlebury’s pursuit of a more diverse campus? Sure, we can all agree on the various merits of diversity both in life and in the academic experience. Diversity enriches us, with its multiplicity of opinion and experience. In addition, its direct pursuit brings people together that otherwise would never have met. These are good things, and by all means, diversity is something we all should look to foster in our lives, but as for the question of what diversity contributes to Middlebury, can we all be so sure that it is valuable? How does diversity translate into a payoff on the investment we all make when we go here?

Now, I’m no economist – and quite frankly, I think that people who measure everything in dollars and cents are the cause of many of our problems these days – but to play devil’s advocate: the encouragement of diversity at Middlebury is a bad economic decision for both the college and its students, for a variety of reasons.

Let’s assume, like an economist (wrongly) that everyone’s goal in life is to make as much money as possible. Middlebury, in that sense, is an investment – one that will reap rewards via more opportunities, better jobs, and ultimately, more money. Clearly the goal of being here, then, is to secure for us that extra advantage, that leg up that will get us the corner office and the big salary. Middlebury’s name alone assures some level of success, but there is more that contributes to our future economic well-being besides the look on prospective employers’ faces when they see where we went to school.

Middlebury is all about connections. We have a terrific alumni network, and our alums have gone on to do a host of interesting things. Many are remarkably successful. They achieved success in the usual ways – intelligence, hard work, etc. – but clearly many of them also benefited from the connections they made at Middlebury. So while “Middlebury” printed in bold at the top of a resume might help in landing a job, it’s even more effective when the person across the desk went here, too. Which brings me back to diversity.

The stated goal of increasing diversity is to bring together more individuals of different social, economic, and racial backgrounds. So while we still maintain a good number of students from our core demographic – rich, white, sweet laxers – we also throw in students who are considerably less privileged. Maybe they’re poor, maybe they’re the first in their family to go to college, or maybe they’re from another country, but what we can be sure of is that none of their parents are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Clearly this degrades the value of our education. Who is to help us get our foot in the door after graduation if we are suddenly starved for the wealthy, well-educated elites that we have attracted for years?

To this I propose a solution – a new set of recommendations to make sure that we all get the highest return on our $200,000 after graduation (because that, after all, is what it’s all about). Fuck diversity. Who needs it? I may be boring, ignorant, and spoiled, but inside the walls of my McMansion I am all that is Man. Perhaps I’ve never heard an opposing viewpoint or befriended someone of a different skin color (besides Jose, our gardener, or Fabricia, our maid) or discovered that there is something out there besides my stock portfolio and my trophy wife, but damn am I rich. I’ve won. We have won. We went to Middlebury, and it was worth it. My parents might have bought me a Toyota instead of a Mercedes to save money for college, but look at me now: who needs cars when you can just pay people to carry you around?

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, all this and more can be ours – all we have to do is give up this tired “diversity” experiment, and go back to doing what we do best. Lets increase our recruiting in Greenwich and the rest of the tri-state area. For a little variety, let’s make sure we take a couple from just outside Boston.

The blonde lacrosse player? She’s in.
The tall, handsome prep-schooler? Give him a slot.
The son of an investment banker? He’s in, as long as he brings an extra pair of madras shorts – I lost mine.

Think of the dividends they’ll pay! Money for that Proctor renovation? Got it. Wall Street internships for all our econ majors? A done deal. Paying off the debt for the new logo that the college abandoned? It’s in the bag. And of course, the value of a Middlebury education continues to grow. With connections like these, who needs school in the first place?

In conclusion, a quick message to our friends in the admissions office: let diversity go. Let’s pursue that rosy reality I just described. No one needs the stimulation (read: challenge) of diversity. We’d be much happier if we were all the same. And Diversity never got anyone that cushy job or that house in the right neighborhood, but you can bet your hot secretary that Connections did. Diversity might be nice, in theory, but the bottom line is my bottom line. After all, as far as most Midd students are concerned, if it can’t be measured in dollars, then it doesn’t make cents.

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Making Democracy Work

Hallie Fox of the Middlebury Roosevelt Institution

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So far, the 2008 presidential hopefuls have raised unprecedented campaign funds. With over a year to go before the election, candidates are already hitting the road to rally votes, raise money, and debate our nation’s most pressing issues: immigration, health care, the war in Iraq, global warming, and homeland security, to name a few.

Yet absent from the debate is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation: voting. The very nature of our political system rests on the democratic participation of our citizens. Although we have historically precluded minorities, women, and felons from voting, one would assume that today all are given an equal opportunity to cast their ballots. Wrong.

An estimated 5 million Americans are in jail and thus have lost the fundamental right to participate in the political process. African American men make up 1.5 million of this number. As a result, 13% of black men in America have lost the right to vote. Even after Florida’s disastrous “purge” scandals in 2000 and 2004, little has been done to reform our flawed and inconsistent voting system that deprives these felons of their constitutional right to vote. Many of these citizens have been wrongly accused or “lost in the filing process,” and as a result have unjustly lost one of their most important and fundamental rights as American citizens.

These numbers do not even take into account the number of American citizens who have not lost their right to vote but do not know how, have not been contacted to register, or believe they are not eligible to vote. As Americans, it is our civic responsibility to make democracy work.

Despite the Help America Vote Act of 2002, little has been done to insure accountability of election officials, purge lists, and notification of individuals on their voting status. For example, in a 15-state study conducted by the ACLU, Demos, and Right to Vote, not one state has codified any specific set of criteria for its officials to use in ensuring that an individual with a felony conviction is the same individual being purged from the voter rolls. Two thirds of the states surveyed do not even require that election officials notify voters when they are purged from voter rolls.

I ask you, Middlebury, how many of you accurately filled out your absentee ballot, sent in your votes, and tracked the results last election cycle? A friend of mine even reported submitting her information to Middlebury’s own ”Get Out the Vote” campaign with hopes of receiving an absentee ballot. She was met with an empty mailbox.

It is our duty to hold our government accountable. So before it is too late, I challenge you to make democracy work. Make our voting system fair, educate our fellow citizens on the importance of voting, and most importantly, don’t forget to exercise your own right to vote.

Racism Still Alive

Josh Wessler

In a discussion about presidential candidate Barack Obama, the question of race will inevitably come up. Pundits dissect his family tree: his mother is from Kansas, his father is Kenyan. Is he African-American? American? African? Black? White? His middle name is Hussein!

Take a recent article in the Washington Post, for example. The issue on everyone’s mind (mainly because the pollsters dwell on it), is about whether Obama can transcend the racial divide. How come these questions are never asked about the other candidates?

Is Edwards too white?

Gosh, I think Mitt Romney needs to lighten up on the race card. He doesn’t want to seem too pale…

Instead, the media remarks on how well Obama speaks to both races. Yet, Clinton won’t lose the white vote if she neglects blacks. And John McCain isn’t worried about appearing too much like an everyman. He (like the rest of the presidential candidates) is white, and unlike Obama, he doesn’t have to clarify his race.

Some say we’re in a new era of race relations. But we’re still asking the same old questions. And that’s a real shame.

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?

Taking Racial Privilege for Granted

Josh Wessler

The words “white” and “non-white,” when used to describe people, create dangerous dichotomies. They imply positives and negatives— opposites. But, as a white American male, I am colored in the same way as Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. My skin pigmentation— by its physical properties— allows others to see me as white and to assume that I deserve greater access to materials that others are commonly denied. I am not “beyond” race, as I used to believe.

First, I’ll admit my part in this. I have never had to doubt the availability of certain things, such as college, if I worked hard enough and chose that path. This is because of the values my parents instilled, the encouragement of my high school and the expectations among my friends. But it was also because I was “non-colored.” Race, as a limiting factor, was simply not a daily concern. I cared deeply about civil rights, but only as an issue that others had to deal with. Only now do I realize that for every person that had to struggle against the stigma of race, there was someone like me, who took for granted being colorless— like race didn’t apply.

So please, consider me as colored. Consider that only if everyone joins the discussion of race can we begin to see the prejudice among us and between us all.

But why stop at merely welcoming others, such as whites, into the discussion? It is time for each and every member of the Middlebury community to actively place themselves into the dialogue. Privileges and advantages accrued to certain groups can act in invisible ways, but the expressions of these inequalities are glaring. One can see and measure racial segregation and race-based differences in wages, healthcare, higher education rates and varying exposure to disease-causing hazards.

What is especially difficult about these types of privilege is that those who benefit may perceive the inequality but find themselves innocent of complicity. Surely, growing up in a mostly white, affluent suburb and attending a mostly white college like Middlebury does not constitute an explicit act of racism. But what about the next generation? Will your kids grow up in that same suburb? Or will you move into a more socio-economically diverse community where the public schools are not as highly regarded, and risk limiting your children’s access to resources for academic achievement? The answer to this question determines if you participate in, and reinforce the system of white privilege.

If you think that the only problem is that minority kids are disadvantaged, look again. It is very likely that middle to upper middle class whites have disproportionate advantage. Is the college acceptance process fair? Not when most white students can go to college, at least somewhere, because of their wealth. What’s needed is a paradigm shift. Money buys degrees and degrees get interviews. The issue is not whether you believe in white privilege. It’s there. Look around at the faces on campus. The issue is whether you are ready to do something about it.

That’s not fair, you reply— why should you be responsible for fixing a system you did not create? True, it isn’t fair. But this system has no author. There will never be one Spartacus to lay our guilt upon. And if you don’t stand up, no one will. If you don’t have the conviction, why should you expect your children to?

If you don’t agree with this article, ask yourself one last question. Ask yourself what really bothers you: the idea of giving more people a fair chance at education, or the thought that if things were more just, you wouldn’t be able to get in to Middlebury? If you still are choosing to act like this divide doesn’t apply to you, maybe you don’t belong here.

Brain Drain in Developing Countries

Elizabeth Goffe

When I open my eyes at Middlebury, I am overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity that surrounds me. Snow covers the ground. The sun hides in an uncertain grey sky. It isn’t that this country isn’t beautiful— the star-filled skies, the refreshingly clean air, the squirrels, the snow and the changing seasons are all so new and interesting to me— but the United States is simply not my home.

When considering possible majors and career paths, I crave some kind of direction and purpose. Like so many college students, I can’t help pondering my future, and here lies my dilemma. Although I would like to return to the music, the language and the inherent beauty of my home country, I would be lying if I said that Jamaica’s song isn’t tainted by poverty, and that the poetry of my country is not punctuated by bullets. The fact is, many students from developing countries go abroad to study and have to decide whether or not they will return to their homes. In 2005, a World Bank report stated that eight out of ten Haitians and Jamaicans who have college degrees live outside their countries, and more than half of university-educated professionals from many countries in Central America and the Caribbean also live abroad. These figures were shocking to me at first, but now I realize that it really isn’t much of a surprise.

There are several considerable factors that keep people away from their native countries. For instance, the higher level of crime and violence in some developing countries is an extremely uninviting prospect, especially for people who are raising children. The economies are also less stable than those of developed countries, which may result in lower salaries and fewer benefits. There is also a lack of academic and employment-related opportunities in developing countries. For example, someone who studies nuclear science abroad may be limited in his or her opportunities to work in such a field when he or she returns home. Another factor, and the one that makes me most apprehensive about living in my home country, is the possibility of reverse culture shock. After receiving a tertiary education in a developed country, it may be difficult to readjust to certain cultural habits and attitudes, such as those towards women, homosexuals, and religion.

Although these are valid and weighty reasons for not returning to a developing country, I feel that too many people want to escape the reality of their countries, under the assumption that it is futile to try to make any considerable difference in the situation. By leaving, they contribute to the “brain drain” that many developing countries experience when people who go abroad for education choose not to return. After studying in a developed country, one has the opportunity to use this education and new perspective to better the situation of the country where one grew up. In order to decide between remaining in a developed country and going back home, one must take into consideration one’s own future as well as the future of one’s home country.

This is an incredibly difficult decision to make, and in many ways, I can understand why some people choose not to go back. Regardless of where one lives, however, it is important to remember that we still have the opportunity to help those who, for various reasons (inadequate education, poverty, oppression by police) are unable to fend for themselves and truly make a difference on their own. They have nowhere else to go.