Diversity is a big buzz word these days, at least I think it still is. I know it comes up at work, and I saw today that it was a topic even in Hollywood’s award show season. It’s a funny word, diversity. Merriam-Webster online defines it in the following ways:
: the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization
: the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.
Most of us probably think of the word in terms of the first definition. However, it seems to me that in the effort to BE diverse, we start to look at people only in terms of their race or what culture they are from, and how different that is from our own culture or race. I don’t believe differences are a bad thing, this coming from someone who considers herself a little different. (Although my kids prefer the word weird when describing me.) However, I do think that when seeing only cultural or race differences, there’s a danger in a “them” vs “me” mentality. As if we are comparing one against the other. It’s not inclusive, but exclusive thinking–the opposite of what diversity training teaches. That’s why I like the second definition better–aren’t we all a collection of different ideas, forms, types? In my house there are three women and while we share the same basic culture and race, we are vastly different in some ways. My youngest shares limited physical resemblance to me or her older sister. My oldest has a different fashion sense than the rest of us. I’m, well, weird apparently, thus much different than the two of them. In this sense, our differences make life more interesting and enriching. And if we were from three different races or cultures, how much more interesting and enriching would that be?
I went to a college that had a large influx of international students. I had friends from many different races and cultures: Spain, France, Japan, Iceland, and Ecuador were a few of the places they hailed from. It was fascinating to me. The differences in language and ideas and views opened me to thinking of things in ways I wouldn’t if the population weren’t so diverse. And this semester the class I’m teaching has students from Serbia, Mexico, and Pakistan as well as from different cities around the area. The differences within this group of students is what makes the class so interesting and rich with potential to learn more than our class content. I love that we are going to see things from different viewpoints. I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity in my life to experience diversity in this way, as a means to expand my own mind and view of the world. How boring it would be if we all thought alike and acted the same.