Bach: The True Meaning of Diversity

Diversity is not determined by race or gender alone.

by Jinsung Bach | 10/11/16 12:15am

We are often told that diversity is a virtue to treasure. We must be welcoming of all cultures, we are told, and we must accept them with love and tolerance. And indeed, this is a most desirable outcome. Diversity is vital to a thriving society. But, I ask, do these oh-so fierce proponents of diversity understand exactly what it is? Do they, for all their buzzwords and Tumblr savvy, truly grasp what it means to be a “diverse” society?

In most contexts, the term is equated with racial or gender diversity, to the exclusion of almost everything else. A “diverse” society typically is considered to be one comprised of people who reflect all the colors of the human rainbow, equally partitioned between the genders. However, this image ignores less visible forms of diversity by assuming that these people hold the same principles and agree accordingly. It associates diversity with race and gender alone ,overlooking the myriad other attributes that contribute to what we should regard as true diversity.

Our identities as individuals and thinking human beings lie largely in how we perceive the world, in our experiences and in our culture. Race plays an enormous part in shaping these identities, but it is hardly the only factor. It would be to our detriment to ignore the roles that religion, family, national identity and politics play in shaping our personalities. Even this paltry list is hardly exhaustive. Surely, if we look upon the attributes that shape the we really are, race and gender are but drops in the bucket.

It is therefore a tremendous mistake to believe that race and gender alone determine who we are as people. It is ignorant to discount the beautiful complexity of human identity. But more gravely, it is bigoted to assume that identities can be generalized over entire swathes of people based upon an arbitrary difference. From there it is but a hop, skip and jump to the sort of elitist intolerance that defined slavery and Jim Crow. This is a mistake our nation cannot afford to make again.

I bring up such painful moments from our history because American higher education is, in many ways, already repeating past faults. For instance, an irrational fear of political conservatism is evident even in the highest echelons of academia. I need not remind the reader that our own school’s leaders have dismissed the conservative world as “not very nice,” or of the open hostility conservative students have faced at other learning institutions.

The growing taboo against political conservatism is but one example among many. It is not possible to claim we are truly a diverse society if we expect everyone to have the exact same beliefs. To this end, academia has, for the most part, failed its students. Scores of cancelled campus speakers and disgruntled students are testament to the paradox, that even as we strive to become more diverse in race and gender, our intellectual diversity suffers and threatens to vanish altogether. In this mad race to satisfy the misconception of race and gender as the sole qualifiers of diversity, we have sacrificed exactly what diversity was meant to help us achieve.

No amount of pandering language or self-segregated safe spaces will bring us this intellectual diversity. I thus call upon our administrators and my fellow students to see with true eyes the value of true diversity and to work towards reinforcing it on our campus. We must create an environment where vast differences can be breached rather than deepened. We must welcome the opportunity to let these differences clash with one another and create newer, more wholesome perspectives in their wake.

I do not mean to say that race and gender are irrelevant. Quite the opposite, for as I have established both of these traits are an indelible part of identity. Nonetheless, we cannot and should not limit our concept of diversity to just these factors. We must not lose sight of where diversity truly manifests: in the brain and the heart, more so than in the skin alone.