What Should Diversity Feel Like?

Judith Ohikuare shares a piece, When Minority Students Attend Elite Private Schools, discussing the struggle minority children face among their privileged white peers. This seemed especially relevant to Amherst’s struggle for “real” diversity today. We have the numbers, but our college’s culture is still strikingly divided.

Michèle Stephenson, the mother of a minority student in the documentary American Promise, echoes these feelings:

Idris [her son] and I started our respective journeys at a pivotal point on the timeline of minority enrollment in independent schools, as schools started to try for more than simple numeric representation. According to Myra McGovern, senior director of public information for the National Association of Independent Schools, more independent schools are becoming invested in how diverse environments should feel, rather than only concentrating on what they should look like. Likewise, more parents of color are discovering alternatives to public school that seem stable in the face of rapidly transforming neighborhoods and school systems.

What should diversity feel like? How can we know when we’ve succeeded? I might say that diversity works when no one group feels superior to another. Rather than eliminating all labels, and erasing people’s identities, we treat all  labels the same. I know this is an abstract description of healthy diversity, but I keep it abstract because I don’t want to define it exactly. I’m not sure what that kind of diversity looks like, or even how to achieve it. Most importantly, I’m not sure what that kind of diversity feels like either. Who says a truly diverse community is a happy one? Sometimes the right way of life, or the just way of life, is a painful one. But diversity isn’t about achieving worldwide happiness; it’s about challenging yourself to think beyond your own experience.

Isn't diversity swell?

Isn’t diversity swell?




So, the tension described in Ohikuare’s article–though problematic in this case because it’s disproportionately felt by the minority–may be a positive instead of a negative. Perhaps it’s time we embrace the aches and pains of diversity, and learn to live with them rather than trying to figure out how to fix them.


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