The downside of diversity: overly emphasizing our differences
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 02:09
Any West Virginia University student worth their salt could rattle off what makes our University so great – from the camaraderie and excitement of cheering at the big games and FallFest to top-rated academic programs, cutting-edge research and study abroad opportunities – WVU is an excellent fit for a wide variety of students.
And with so much variety, diversity is often promoted as an attractive feature. Just take a walk around campus; you will almost certainly see a Muslim girl wearing a hijab, an African American student climbing the campus hills, a lesbian couple holding hands, fraternity guys and sorority girls, studious academics, physically-challenged students, jocks, nerds, geeks, party animals … you get the picture.
It’s great that everyone has the right to express themselves, and it’s even better that the majority of WVU students wholeheartedly accept their peers for who they are. It all boils down to appreciating the diversity of individuals – but is that really such a good thing?
Sure, it’s awesome that we have so many clubs and religious groups around campus. And anyone who’s been in the Mountainlair has seen all those flags flying above the food court representing the myriad students from other countries who attend the University. WVU does a top-notch job of making sure all students – regardless of gender, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), cultural, ethnic or national affiliation – feel welcome. And that really is a good thing.
But let’s take a closer look at the definition of "diversity." At first glance, it suggests a variety or an assortment of differences.
Certainly there’s a lot to be learned from such a collection and range of diversity among us, not to mention the idea of promoting not just tolerance, but also learning to accept the differences.
On a deeper level, however, diversity can simply draw attention to all the differences among people. It’s another way to compartmentalize and make generalizations about individuals based on their beliefs, skin color, or any other type of affiliation. Instead of seeing just another student studying to ace an exam, or snagging a donut at drunk breakfast, or sprinting to make it to class on time, the concept of diversity often has a nasty habit of causing us to overlook the person and instead focus on the differences he or she may have from us – and that really isn’t such a great thing.
I’ll turn to our forefathers for assistance here. Back in the day, these guys came up with the idea that all men are created equal. Throughout history – after societal changes, rebellions and revolutions – being "created equal" has expanded to mean that regardless of race, sex, age, skin color, origin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, each person has the same opportunities as everyone else. Just take a look at WVU’s Non-Discrimination Statement if you don’t believe me.
According to the policy, WVU does not discriminate against any of the above categories and strives to make every student as equal to the next as possible. Since the birth of our country, the United States has struggled to live by the belief that everyone deserves to be treated the same. But if we live in such a diverse country with millions of other, different people, why should we all be treated exactly the same?
Simple. It’s because, fundamentally, we are the same. All people, deep down, are one. We are all a team fighting for common causes, from getting a ticket to the big game, nailing that class project, or rolling out of bed to make that 8 a.m. class to bettering our community and even changing the world.
Even as a species, our primary goal is the same, no matter if it’s a starving child in Africa or a wealthy Japanese business man – we all want to survive and, more importantly, thrive. We all need to eat, sleep and breathe. We all have things we like and dislike. We all have hopes and dreams and goals to accomplish. So how can diversity, something that magnifies our differences and inevitably builds walls between us, encourage a feeling of unity among us?
Answer: It doesn’t. Drawing attention to diversity is countereffective. By celebrating our differences, we are really just pushing ourselves away from each other and focusing not on the person in front of us but on the ideas and opinions they have. While that does sometimes offer students a different perspective, it often just creates boundaries that discourage solidarity.
Though it’s important to accept everyone as equal, it’s more important that we operate as one. Because, at the end of the day, regardless of who someone worships or loves or the color of their skin or where they’re from, we are all just people. And any WVU student worth their salt could tell you that.