Katie Dixon’s column “Stress on diversity divides freshman class” in The Flat Hat’s Aug. 29 issue conjured up all the frustrations of my three years working to enhance the often shamefully scant understanding among my peers of diversity’s purpose and place.
The purpose of the orientation exercise cited by the author is to unify, not divide, participants. As human beings, we are all quick to judge one another based on outward appearance or demeanor. But the exercise was meant to highlight that despite phenotypical differences, we are more alike than we might initially think.
Fundamental aspects of human experience — such as owning two dogs, knowing someone who has committed suicide — supersede external discrepancies. The exercise encourages participants to focus on the aspects of our experiences that unite us as human beings.
That doesn’t mean that we should ignore the impact of our differences. Dixon recommended that we “embrace [our] differences and respect others, but don’t be defined by them.” I’ve listened to my grandfather’s stories of experiencing racism, and seen the pent-up frustration and rage that color his perception of the world. I wonder how he could possibly have avoided being defined by those experiences.
That’s the thing about our experiences — they define us. And each person’s unique experiences are inevitably affected by his or her skin color, gender, social class, sexuality, religion, family and nationality. The challenge of diversity is about using differences to find similarities.
I challenge the Class of 2012 to embrace diversity as no previous class has. I challenge them to join a multicultural organization not of their culture, to learn a new language, to take more than one GER 4C class.
I’m willing to bet that if they do they will feel anything but divided from their peers.