Social Justice Corner: rethinking perspective

How seeking only phyiscal diversity on campuses can create internal issues

Nia Burnett

When walking into a classroom, do you see faces that look like yours? Or do you interact with people on the daily basis that come from a very similar background as you do? Do you have conversations with people who have ideas that completely align with yours? Do people praise the same way you do, if they praise at all? Are all of your acquaintances from a heteronormative existence? Does diversity ring a bell to you?

The question is, what is diversity? Is it a visual concept? When you walk around campus and you see different faces in different skin tones, is diversity achieved? Diversity is a term that is used to add on to what is “the white norm”. If you analyze the vernacular in the United States, all ethnic people’s nationality is hyphenated. I am the hyphenated American.

As Toni Morrison says, “In this country American means white. Everyone else has to hyphenate”.  This concept exhibits how institutions views people who are considered “other”. Allegheny is 200 years old, and that 200-yearold thought process is present today. Allegheny “honors” diversity by inviting students of color and many students of difference to be apart of the “Gheny legacy.” However, the Allegheny community can improve in actually interacting with those who are their diverse students.

Diversity at Predominately White Institutions (or PWI’s) can actually be a marginalizing experience for the students who make up the actual diversity. When colleges focus heavily on diversity, their pointing out a problem with society. They are pointing out how these students were not allowed through their doors, but now they will admit these students at small populations at a time.

It shows that white people (men for the longest, though) have always had a right to go to college. It was a given. It is their right. Therefore, as society moves “forward,” colleges feel they have to continuously highlight how they are allowing groups of people in who they previously shut out. This act can do harm to their diverse group.

Although society is moving forward, PWI’s have to be aware of the experiences of students on campus who are their “diversity.” Their continual highlight of our presence, our presence that is blown up to a point where it makes a college seem inclusive, pushes students to the outside of the community. When a student’s identity and experiences aren’t reflected in how the colleges are portraying their identity and experiences, it creates a sense of not belonging. When the diverse students are not even engaged as fully on campus, when their thoughts are not represented on campus, when their physicality is the only aspect that counts as diversity, a rift of not truly belonging will develop. When your physicality and uniqueness is trumped up yet you are ignored otherwise, then that is when diversity becomes an issue.

Diversity is a beautiful thing. Celebrating student’s different backgrounds, beliefs, perspectives and social status can create a strong community. However, focusing on their outward appearance or how they can make the college appear progressive can effect them on many levels.