Diversity does not include labels

Danny Cozzi

When I was first hired as a community adviser in Stevenson Hall, there was an activity called “Dialogue on Diversity” during the few weeks of training.

This was an hour or so discussion of “diversity,” during which one of the hall directors read a list of statements of identity like, “I am Latino or Hispanic” and “I am gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

The goal of this activity was for each CA-in-training to stand up if he or she identified with a given identity statement, which would hopefully result in promoting tolerance toward others who are different from us. However, when I heard “I am white or Caucasian” and “I am straight or heterosexual,” I declined to stand up. In fact, I chose not to do so with any identity statement that fit me, and was bothered other people didn’t do the same.

The truth is we do nothing more than perpetuating superficial differences by bringing such focused attention them. Creating labels to make our diversity painfully obvious causes more harm than good. It’s shallow, and it doesn’t give individuals a chance to show who they are as a single person.

The point I want to make is that diversity should be about discovering similarities despite apparent differences, not merely pointing out what makes us different. I believe people seek familiarity and community, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what bring us together are the things we share with each other, and that has nothing to do with our appearance.

Senior drawing major Sean Nadeau also sees issues with diversity on campus.

“We say we are diverse and welcome new or different views,” Nadeau said. “But at the end of the day I know we offend each other and do not listen to each other.”

I think that’s a good point. After all, the point of diversity is ultimately to understand one another. Since we are in a community of people from very different backgrounds and upbringings, listening to one another is absolutely crucial to our success. It requires more than simply having a variety of people with obvious differences. We know we’re different from each other, but that’s not a strength by simply being true.

An April 2011 column from The Leadership Advisor by William Powell sums up the issue with diversity perfectly.

“The mere existence of various cultures, ethnicities, gender and religious beliefs within the same relational space does not connote strength of anything,” Powell wrote. “It’s just a description of a group of people.”

I think this is an important distinction that needs to be made: what people think diversity is and what it really ought to be. If we use diversity to achieve only tolerance, I think we’re making a mistake. Merely tolerating a person doesn’t necessarily show them respect.

We should find our similarities and use them as a means of understanding and accepting each other. Perspective is the key. That is the sign of true strength within a community.