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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The meaning of diversity

Published: September 12, 2008
Section: Opinions

I remembered during my orientation at Brandeis, Jamele Adams declared that the definition of diversity, in its entirety, could be summed up by the phrase, “unconditional love.” Soon after his declaration, Orientation Leaders prodded the students to challenge the truth they were told to swallow. Many of the students, including me, were skeptical to accept such a complex idea without questioning it first. One student raised his hand and asked: “How can I give my unconditional love to someone when I don’t even know anything about that person?”

I agreed with that student at the time. However, somewhere between one of my morning trips from my room to the bathroom, I had my epiphany, and then I suddenly understood what Jamele was trying to say. Simply put, the definition of unconditional love is that not everyone is worthy of love, but the people who are worthy of love can come from all different types of backgrounds and walks of life. Diversity is a statement that one should always give oneself a chance to get to know someone regardless of any preconceived condition attached to a person’s race, gender, sexuality, spirituality, etc. When one does find the person to love, that love isn’t colored by a pre-conditioned stereotype, but the love comes from actually getting to know that person.

In a recent article “Celebrating racial diversity is pointless,” by Jordan Rothman, Rothman contends that the adoption of racial diversity separates people along specific ethnic lines and thus makes society as a whole more bigoted. He then submits that to correct this flawed view of diversity, we should adopt a “Bill of Sameness” that entail that people focus on the things they have in common. I submit that the reason Rothman rejects the celebration of racial diversity is because of his mistaken view of why one sets out to achieve racial diversity.

Rothman first rejects celebrating racial diversity because it does not “accomplish its stated mission,” which is to bring “greater perspectives and experiences to intellectual discourse.” However, the successful celebration of diversity, by its definition, should increase dialogue and discourse. It would make sense to say that the way we currently celebrate diversity is failing because it has never accomplished its stated mission, but it is hogwash to say that diversity itself is not achieving its mission of diversity, i.e. we can fail to accomplish the main goal of a mission, but that just means we need to try harder to achieve it, not abandon it.

He then argues that diversity has caused people to “attempt to differentiate classes of people along racial lines,” which in turn leads to societal bigotry. But this thought runs into the same problem as before: if an event where there are people who squabble over racial differences, diversity should open up dialogue, not increase the tension. Bigotry can only be derived from the lack of understanding, not through the idea that states that you should try to understand more.

Nonetheless, if diversity’s mission were to eliminate squabble over racial differences, wouldn’t it make sense that this is because they are talking about the things they like and have in common? This point is a lot harder to prove wrong, but I still believe it is. Because I believe that commonality is only a stepping-stone that people use to get to know the different aspects of other people that they originally didn’t know before!

For example, suppose I like object A (a painting, a recipe, anything) and another person likes object A for the exact same reasons. If we keep talking about the same things we like about object A, then after exhausting everything we like about that object in conversation, there would be nothing left to talk about. The conversation only gets interesting whenever someone introduces something different. And when two people try to get to see the world through each other’s differences, can there be meaningful discussion. Therefore, only diversity can create that atmosphere.

It is incoherent to abandon diversity when our current celebration of it is failing, but the purpose of diversity entails greater perspectives and meaningful discussions. But to surrender to a culture of sameness would mean that we give up listening to new ideas. In fact, this should only mean that we should try harder to make diversity actually work.

And I agree. Diverse City is a wonderful cultures section.