BY BEATRIZ PREECE, Staff Writer
America has come a long way in embracing diversity since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
Diversity includes differences in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, physical abilities, religious beliefs, socio-economic status, and age. Anywhere in America, from the grocery store, to businesses, to college campuses, the word “diversity” should evoke images of acceptance of other fellow human beings. Rarely does diversity come up more anywhere else, however, than in higher education.
Since the well publicized 1995 court case of Ms. Jennifer Gratz, who applied to and was rejected from the University of Michigan, colleges have acknowledged the many challenges that they face when addressing diversity on campus today. But how do students view diversity?
Patrick Simpson-Mahan, an African-American senior majoring in Psychology, says that in his earlier days of being a student at UM-D he thought that the diversity ideal only applied to African-Americans. Seeing the student body today, however, he thinks otherwise.
“I don’t think that other student ethnic groups are held under the same light in regards to ‘diversity’ as African-Americans, mainly because of this country’s civil rights history and struggle,” said Simspon-Mahan. “The other is the school’s proximity to Detroit, one of the most heavily populated African-American cities in the country, so one would expect this school to have more students representing that racial background than any other.”
There is no doubt that a diverse student population suits our democratic ideals and engages the students in dialogues with people of dissimilar backgrounds, preparing them for the real world where everyone will have to get along. However, often Caucasian-American students are not considered by the college definition of diversity in the same light as African-Americans or other racial minorities.
“The issue of race is very tricky for so-called ‘white people,'” said Frank Harrison, a Caucasian-American student majoring in Communications. “Whites are generally treated as a homogeneous whole; there is no allowance made for the many and varied cultural and ethnic heritages represented in this country.”
Harrison continued saying “Unfortunately, whites are themselves to blame for much of this condition, as many have abandoned the traditional values, beliefs, and culture of previous generations in pursuit of modernity and all its trappings. Consumer culture is the only culture left to the majority of white Americans; there really is no such thing as ‘white culture.’ How can the university possibly recognize white culture, when whites themselves don’t avow any cultural identity?”
Issues of social justice often arise in conversations of diversity. Wikipedia refers to social justice as “the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.”
“Many people seem to believe that racism is something that white people do to non-white people,” said Harrison. “The discussion of race has become so one-dimensional that it has almost become a cliché. All too often, injustices that are actually rooted in economics, politics, religion or other social forces are summarily lumped together and blamed on race.
“I regularly encounter conversations in which people of all colors characterize a historical situation as whites in general having committed this injustice or that, when in fact it would be far more accurate to credit the actions of only very few politically or commercially minded actors,” said Harrison.
“I think that the only way to have social justice in this country would [be] to require an equal opportunity for education and success and for everyone without discriminating between them for their racial and ethnic background,” said Simpson-Mahan.