by Andrew Gjefle
Rhetoric is an interesting thing. It can be used to effect any number of reactions, influencing the way people interact and think of the world. In the context of a university, especially one with such a clear vision and purpose as Whitworth, it will play an incredibly important role in creating a certain atmosphere or attitude among those studying there. It would seem, then, that the careful and effective use of certain words has potential to work much good among people living together, subjected to the same rhetoric.
Diversity is one of those words at which the mere mention sends people into rabid, warring factions, determined to make others feel bad or irrelevant. At the same time, though, I believe it is important to recognize the benefits of using the word. When it boils down to it, I think most would agree that the use of the word diversity makes this college is a better place, rather than worse.
But it is not enough to just say it. One must understand its meaning, and I think misconceptions of what diversity really means is the root of most of the problems people have with its use. And that’s perfectly understandable; if diversity seems to be an ironically narrow goal, it is easy to see how the average student might think it does not apply to him or her. But a closer look reveals the fallacy of thinking that way.
Hidden behind that dubious sentiment lays the beauty of it all! How is it possible to define “average student” or decide what the middle ground is? I think the word “diversity” covers a broader scope of meaning than most people think.
First, diversity does not just mean having racial diversity. This is one of the most common misconceptions. While having people of different ethnic backgrounds attend Whitworth is certainly part of the goal of the rhetorical use of “diversity,” the more important aspect is going beyond the presence of people of different colors to a deeper relationship with and understanding of individual people; if one can grow to know another, a knowledge of their particular culture and environment, and how that affects them, is vital. Racial diversity is about more than preventing a homogenous look to the campus; it’s about learning to relate to people who come from a completely different place than one may have grown up in. Rather than a contrived, generalized “global perspective,” it allows individual relationships to be more harmonious and meaningful.
Diversity can be intellectual as well. This is a place where Whitworth has done so well encouraging a diverse environment, we tend not to even notice it. There are few requirements as far as classes go, and people are free to study what they want. Compare this to, say, Biola University, which requires every single one of its students to graduate with a minor in theology. Even the Core program, despite its flaws, is designed to open students’ eyes to a wide range of ways of thinking and to push them toward what works for each individual.
Heck, even diversity of interests is allowed as well. There are plenty of outlets for different modes of expression, whether it’s dance, games, sports, movies, music, visual art, interpersonal bonding (I’m looking at you, No Shave November), appreciation of nature, writing … the list goes on. There’s even a party scene, and the fact that it is not attacked speaks to the university’s commitment to allowing people freedom to pursue what they will. It all falls under the term “diversity.” There’s something for everybody, and Whitworth’s accommodation of various interests is admirable.
Yes, “diversity” may be misunderstood, it may be overused, and it even may be an obstacle to some people. But what it stands for, and the way the university functions in light of its use and its goals are undeniably positive. Is it perfect? Of course not. Sometimes, the rhetoric is difficult to wade through. But with even a small amount of reflection, its influence can be seen to be just as beneficial as anything else Whitworth has instituted in its goals of educating both mind and heart.