The misunderstandings of diversity (at a glance)

“My high school didn’t have a large amount of diversity but it had some diversity”

This comment was made by one of my classmates earlier this week. This is no anomaly; I hear comments like this all the time. So I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone that diversity is not a codeword for “minority students are present,” yet people use it that way all the time. The dictionary defines diversity as “the state of being diverse; showing a great deal of variety.” Thus, the above quote can be translated to “we didn’t have a lot of variety but we had variety”… wait which one is it? Was there variety of not? By this logic my elementary school, which was 95% black and latino, was the most diverse school I ever went to.

Another issue with the “diversity = minority students” mindset is it ignores all the other elements that are important when it comes to diversity (ex. nationality, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, etc). Remember: diversity is multifaceted.

Additionally, try to step away from your previous experiences and embrace the numbers when it comes to diversity. By this I mean the following: if you’re coming from a homogenous background to a slightly less homogenous background that’s not “diverse.” So many students on my college campus have said things like

I know it’s not really diverse but it’s a lot more diverse than my high school was.

I’m glad you’re in a place that’s more diverse than you were before but comparing a college to a homogenous high school is setting the bar pretty low.

IMG_9675Lastly, diversity means different (different backgrounds, different race, different religion, etc) but too often we are overly eager to find similarities. I think it’s really important to acknowledge the things we share and to realize we are all connected but I think our thirst for similarity can undermine our celebration of diversity. What’s wrong with admitting that we are different? I think of peers that have grown up on farms in contrast to myself, growing up in the city. Our commute to school was nothing alike. But so what? I love that. And I can learn a lot from hearing about their upbringing. Just because some experiences don’t have common ground doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lot from them. So let’s celebrate and talk about those differences instead of trying to reframe them to be “the same.”

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2 thoughts on “The misunderstandings of diversity (at a glance)

  1. You raise so many AWESOME points in this post. My own high school was white as the mountain snow in Colorado, but we had students from EXTREME ends of the socioeconomic religious and political spectra. We certainly weren’t racially diverse, but Birkenstock-wearing vegans had to coexist with bible-quoting gun enthusiasts. Later, when I went to College in California I made my first non-white friends, but everyone I interacted with was politically liberal and upper middle class.

    It’s interesting how humans self-select into groups that look alike or think alike…

    • Thanks Sam! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I appreciate you sharing your own experiences with diversity. I didn’t make my first white friend until I went to high school. We definitely do have that tendency to go to like minds/those outwardly similar to us. Often I think we’re told to talk to people to find out what we share but I think it’s even more valuable to talk to people and find out our differences. I remember being really surprised to discover one of my friends was a Republican because all my other friends were Democrats. It made me realize that I need to step back from some stereotypes I had formed in my mind.

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