Talking About Diversity

Sometimes it feels like just that: talking about. “Diversity” is a kind of buzz word I hear, especially considering institutional mission statements. In class the other day, we were told to always ask about diversity. If the word is in a mission statement, ask why and how the institution is fulfilling its commitment to diversity. If it’s missing, ask why.

But the thing it seems we overlook is the why behind the why. Perhaps it’s that reason that sometimes people seem jaded when we do talk about diversity and multiculturalism.

Growing up in eastern Washington, my worldview of diversity was fairly limited. In elementary school, the message was “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an outstanding man who stood up against racism towards Blacks in the United States.” It was hard to internalize the significance of that when my school consisted of a primarily 50/50 split between White children and Latino/a children.

I was an outlier, along with a few other students. I remember having maybe three Black students at school through my K-12 career, and my Asian/Pacific Islander friends and I would always joke that put together, we comprised a total of about three “whole” Asians–most of us, like myself, were mixed-race. Diversity in my world often came down to being the “token” friend of color.

Nowadays, that has changed quite a bit. For the past seven or so years, I’ve lived in areas in which I am definitely not the only Asian individual, and that has helped me explore more about my Filipino heritage. Additionally, I have been challenged to consider the fact that I am mixed-race. I am a blend of so many rich cultures, but what does that mean in terms of how I fit in today’s global world? (For starters, it means that I am constantly explaining “what I am” to people. “Ambiguously Brown” is a humorous and sometimes frustrating reality.)

Recently, I read a piece in which I was challenged by the author to think of diversity in terms of complexity. That resonated with me. It’s probably because I’m a complex individual. I am not easily put into boxes (well, minus physical boxes. I’m pretty small), and I have many identities besides my ethnicity and race that are important. I think when we talk about diversity in the workplace and especially in higher education, it needs to be emphasized that diversity itself is diverse and complex. If we only think of racial diversity, we miss so many other important aspects of individuals, including staff, faculty, and our students.

As a future educator, I hope that I will be able to convince people to think in complex terms. I anticipate some resistance, as it’s not easy thinking. Complex consideration goes beyond false dichotomies and black/white thinking. Challenging yourself to consider how diverse we are in the broadest terms of the word will probably help you relate to others in much richer ways than originally possible.

Just think about it.

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