By Savannah Daniels
On Oct. 24, the Baltimore Sun published “Small Liberal Arts Colleges Lack Diversity,” a piece by fellow Kenyon student, Matthew Gerson ’18, advocating greater diversity in liberal arts schools. I had high hopes upon beginning the article; by the end, I was embarrassed it was even published.
Like Gerson, I attend Kenyon College. Unlike Gerson, I was invited into the College’s four-year diversity program for students from minority backgrounds. Those of us in the program come from a multitude of different socioeconomic classes, races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and sexual identities. This is the kind of diverse student body we need to see greater support for in elite liberal arts schools and across the nation; I thought that would be obvious.
In under 750 words, Gerson passionately argues that we, the privileged elite, owe it to the world to “exchange views with the fullest possible spectrum” of underrepresented Americans. According to the article, this spectrum only includes two races. Apparently the only way to be diverse is to be black. Never once is a single issue of diversity mentioned beyond the underrepresentation of black Americans. Ironically, his concluding statement focuses on how privileged students like himself “need to develop the ability to hear those [underrepresented] voices” — plural “voices,” as in the entire spectrum of minorities that Gerson ignored in his article because they didn’t fit his racial profile. This brand of ignorance is not only common, but also dangerous.
Pushing for “diversity” has become a trend among educated, liberal college students. Visit any campus and you’ll hear students dropping the buzzword like it’ll prove just how “aware” they are, how “progressive” their opinions are. I’m sick of rich, white students complimenting each other on how amazingly accepting they can be in their elite environments. You don’t get any karmic points for not being a bigot.
By limiting diversity to a single race, individuals like Gerson erase the struggles of hundreds of thousands of others who attend the same elite universities and colleges. For these students, diversity isn’t a trend; it’s just who they are. I’m not only talking about students who identify as black, but also the Latinos, Middle Easterners, South Asians and the hundreds of other races we overlook and ignore. I’m talking about the students from working-class families who are the first to attend college, students from different cultures who have to celebrate their holidays alone, students whose sexual orientations/identities aren’t even officially recognized by the colleges they’re attending. All of these diverse minority voices need recognition.
It’s true that if we want our future leaders to be the best they can, we need to improve the diversity of our schools. But that starts with a basic recognition of what diversity is. Gerson focuses heavily on the exact percentages of black and white students at liberal arts schools. He, and many others, have implied that if we just have the right ratio of black students to white students, we can achieve diversity. This type of thinking allows us to ignore the presence of other minorities. We become complacent with only minor changes to the status quo. This is how we came to accept TV shows that claim a “diverse cast” of all white actors and a single, token minority actor. This is how our government can dismiss racism and sexism as dead, while still being about 80 percent white and male (The Washington Post, Sept. 3).
I understand it can be easier to only discuss the types of oppression that we hear about on the news or in our classes, but it’s vital that we take an interest that goes deeper. In order to do that, we have to accept that diversity isn’t a quantitative goal. Diversity is a process that requires us to listen to multiple voices. It’s great that students like Gerson want to recognize their own privilege, but they have a long way to go. The best way to create change is to stop speaking over minorities on their behalf, and to start listening to what they have to say in the first place.
Savannah Daniels ’18 is undeclared from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.