By Iris Wu
The use of the word diversity on campus is disingenuous. People may think that the lack of small armies of ethnic-looking students like me running around campus is the problem. But it is precisely the fact that people think adding more minority students is an ideal and acceptable substitute for diversity that is the real issue.
Diversity has simply ceased to carry any weight because these days; it means very little apart from meeting a quota of minority students or workers, just enough to give the appearance that there is a small global community at school.
Dedicating an entire old health center building to promote multiculturalism may be good and well, but it is emblematic of the wrong way to promote diversity. Creating these centers, adding more minority students, paying lip service to promote diversity without dispelling the underlying stereotypical perceptions with which minorities are regarded is utterly useless.
Diversity is not about how many centers a university dedicates to perpetuate the illusion of ethnic variety. Diversity is not about how many volunteer activities in urban communities your average upper middle class, white, Presbyterian kid can list on his college application as a way to show how he or she has been “exposed” to people from different walks of life. Diversity is not just about how many Hawaiian or Act 6 students the university can lure onto campus. While we’re on that topic, why would one ever leave Hawaii to come to school in Spokane? But that’s beside the point.
Diversity is represented in personal backgrounds, thought, and ideas. I don’t think recruiting from the same white, urban, and Hawaiian demographics necessarily fits this perspective because all these people essentially hold on to the same beliefs and, get ready for it, worldviews. Part of this is because we are a Christian university, but that’s a whole other story. Our culture is so absorbed in its white guilt and desire to be politically correct, and so consumed with the need to compensate for the dearth of minorities on campus that we lose sight of what diversity actually means.
Whitworth has done an adequate job trying to physically integrate international students and minorities by taking them to camps meant for 12 year olds, but what good is physical integration when people still think that all Asian kids obviously have black belts, eat boatloads of rice, and worship their dead ancestors?
I have been and will continue to be exoticized and by extension, marginalized to a certain degree because when people see, me they see the metaphorical Other. When I walk around campus, I am always the perpetual foreigner, and I will always have people hesitatingly ask me if I speak English. When I apply for jobs, I am not seen as just a regular applicant, but a diversity hire. So when Whitworth talks about the importance of diversity enhancing our educational experience with people from different walks of life, which is code for poor, urban, or plain non-white, I don’t buy it.
Unfortunately, Whitworth’s attitude toward the matter appears to be to offer incentives for minority students to enroll and hope that their presence will project an aura of diversity around campus. Then they probably sit around and pray that their freshmen minority retention rate stays high enough for the school to photograph them doing fun Whitworth things to put on the front of the website. This makes Whitworth about as diverse as the Board of Trustees, who were kind enough to grace us with their presence this month. The Board also seems to favor Whitworth’s approach – they follow the old political adage of “Add women and stir.” That just does not work with diversifying a campus.
Adding black, yellow, or brown people and stirring does not mean we’ll end up with diversity by any means. Putting on cultural programs in which students need to be bribed with extra credit of discounted coffee is not effective either. Instead of succumbing to naïve co-optations of minorities, we need to return to the heart of what diversity means.