TLDNR*: Watch Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” on Youtube. Think about your college, think about diversity, and then watch "Billie Jean," because it’s a better song with an awesome video, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with this post.
It is the growing tradition on the internet to offer readers a TLDR (too long, did not read) version of their post, I defer to Mr. Michael Jackson’s song: Black or White. Youtube it, and think about it in the context of college. Or, read on!
Still here? Fantastic. Race and diversity are issues that permeate our culture, and January’s been a month full of opportunities to think about them. First we had the issue with certain words in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn being censored and then we had M.L.K Jr. Day. But have you thought about diversity as it applies to your college?
As the saying goes, “The Medium is the Message,” and every school is a medium for an entirely new cultural experience for its students. So ask yourself, what message is your college sending when it comes to “diversity”?
I attended a private liberal arts college in the Northeast, and I loved it. But needless to say, it was no surprise that my school was listed as one of the most “homogenous” schools in the country. But what does that even mean? On the surface, it means that everyone was pretty much the same, and that’s pretty much it. When it comes to colleges and universities, the notion of homogeneity hardly goes beyond the surface. To oversimplify, it’s either black or white.
Most immediately, this damning distinction sparked a push by the admissions department for more diversity, but the focus of the college seemed to be misguided. I imagined a boardroom full of admissions officers, pacing in front of charts and frantically pouring over financial figures from the previous year. Finally, they conclude in unison: “We need more color!”
Moving forward, things were different – or at least they looked that way. When it came to pamphlets or the school website, the balance between black and white became almost comical. Actually, it was definitely comical. It was as if there was some magical formula for a “diverse” photograph, and anyone who looked different suddenly found themselves photographed for more and more promo materials.
Then I began to wonder…
In our liberal arts environment weren’t we expected to broaden our horizons and think? Class was a place where we could speak critically about culture, and multiple times – whether we were discussing Miles Davis or Marie Curie – it was clear that being different goes far beyond being black or white.
At the same time, I remembered that our college was also a business, and it was fighting for enrollment in a bad economy. To the casual observer, the ideals taught in the classroom didn’t factor into the decisions made in the boardroom. Instead, “diversity” became a percentage, where looking different counted more than thinking different.
In the end, I think the message being sent in the classroom was undermined by the message being sent by the “business” end of the college. Sure, most of us might have had a similar skin tone – but we sure as hell weren’t the same. So the question has to be asked, how can we create a culture where difference and diversity are not simply skin deep? Have you noticed a push for diversity in your school – and is it being done responsibly?
*TLDNR (Too long! Did not read): In the tradition of the internet, you get a TLDNR version of my post. But truly, I hope you read it and I hope you have an opinion.
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