More on ways to address diversity
When it comes to diversity, I sometimes find myself wishing there was a chair you could plug into and instantly be enlightened, à la The Matrix. Of course there is no chair, but even if there were it wouldn’t actually help. Understanding other people is about walking in their shoes, not about what you find when you get wherever it is that you were walking.
In his column, “Ways to Address Diversity,” senior Ray Rieling observed that not everyone at Colby has the same prior experience with diversity. To paraphrase: there is a diversity drought at Colby, but still enough to learn from. Students can’t help where they were born, but even the most sheltered student is obligated to seek diversity through organizations like Colby Conversations on Race and PC Coffee. These are the ideal places to foster understanding, although people in general should be patient with those they find less conscientious than themselves.
When did diversity become only a matter of skin color and only accessible through a facilitated discussion? It seems to me there is great diversity at Colby if you see beyond the color of someone’s skin, and you shouldn’t need to be part of a club to appreciate that. Race, religion, nationality, sexuality and socioeconomic status are just a few of the individual colors in Colby’s kaleidoscope of diversity. Mr. Rieling is correct that students should seek distinct perspectives, but to cloister this process into CCOR or PC Coffee misses the forest for the trees; the goal is to freely engage diversity at Colby without these structures.
The best way to build appreciation for diversity is also the simplest: make friends with people who you think are different from yourself. It’s clearly imperative to appreciate diversity, but it starts in dining halls and dorm rooms as much as in the Pugh Center.
Our closest approximation of walking in someone else’s shoes is learning how they see the world, and the instant gratification of PC Coffee provides relatively little insight. If a student says something thought provoking in that setting, its value is not as a singular thought but as a starting point for a more involved, personal conversation. Their comments mean nothing without an understanding of the life experiences that led them to their conclusions.
There is this nebulous concept that one can “understand diversity” as though you could ever grasp, how it feels to be...
Of course, all of this ignores the obvious fact that beyond gender and race, outward expression of identity is a choice. Nobody has to know if you are poor or rich, Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight. Strict adherents of many religions are distinguishable by their grooming and dress, but generally that is not the case at Colby. The Pugh Center and CCOR might help identify these students, but let this be a reminder that diversity is not a color or piece of clothing, and that it does exist even if we don’t physically see it.
It would be foolish to say diversity organizations don’t help, because they do. Whether students join out of a need for structure or a group experience or anything else, these activities provide a forum in which meaningful communication can begin. They are places where you can meet the people whose shoes you wish to walk in, and Mr. Rieling is right to recognize this.
But, the idealized Colby we all want, and the one that Mr. Rieling alludes to, is a community less reliant on facilitated conversations.
It will be achieved through friendship.
And on that note: Ray, let’s take a walk.