May 9, 2007

What's a "diverse student"?

I got an email recently from our Career Development Office concerning "opportunities for diverse students this summer." It seems that I've heard this phrase a lot lately: "diverse students." It really gets under my skin. I mean, if you're talking about traditionally underrepresented communities, specific ethnicities/racial groups/sexual or gender identities, or whatever, isn't there a better way to put it than "diverse individuals." I mean, if a white guy and a white woman are in a group, that's "diverse" in a number of ways. If we have brown haired and blonde haired people from states around the nation, that's "diverse."

I feel like it's a ghettoization of the term "diversity" to represent visible minorities, and there's this weird tiptoeing around the fire, trying not to use certain phrases to alienate white, hetero students while *clearly* meaning a very specific group of students. Basically, this process will end up (as if it hasn't already) reducing concepts of "diversity" to race, gender, or sexual orientation without speaking to why there is special outreach to these groups. The resulting bad-taste-in-the-mouth syndrome is either tokenism, favoritism, or doubt about the merit of such outreach, depending on who you're talking to.

The lax approach towards language reflects, IMHO, something else. Diversity programs seem to value the faces more than the stories behind those faces, failing to recognize that true integration of different perspectives and groups would take other attributes into account - from family wealth to prior access to education and employment opportunities.

Clearly "diverse" should mean a lot more than it does, and it bothers me that while middle-class people of color are able to take advantage of opportunities that are opened up through "diversity" programs (not really at the expense of the white middle-class people who are the most vocal about these things), it's the working class and poor of this country - of any race or background - that are still left behind.

And it's their voices that are so sorely missed in the corporate board room, the policy-maker's advisory group, and even law school's diversity-based planning and decision-making. Window-dressing doesn't do anything, and if everyone, regardless of their "diversity" is still talking about the same firm jobs, the same damn sit-coms, and everything else, what difference has the program made?

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