Diversity isn’t black and white

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September 12, 2008

1:02 PM

You have read the brochure, you have seen the e-mails and you have heard the speeches — the College of William and Mary has brought in its most diverse class yet, with 25 percent being students of color. That’s great, right?

That depends on who you talk to.

Diversity is more complex than just color. In my hometown, everything is black and white. Religiously, you are an atheist, or you are a Christian. If you are a Christian, you are likely Baptist. Linguistically, you speak English. Chances are that’s the only language you know. Culturally, most people are rural, and many live in the same house in which they were born.

At the College, the stew is better-stirred, and there are a larger number of ingredients being put into the pot. Religiously, there are more choices than days of the week. I’ve heard more languages spoken here than I even knew the names of back home, and I’ve seen people dressed in anything from jeans and a t-shirt to a sari.

But a white person arriving on campus expecting the “most diverse class ever” may be surprised to see that the majority of people look, act and dress in the same manner as they do. While a 25 percent minority population sounds good on paper, 75 percent of the College is racially homogeneous.
As a black student, I know a minority student on campus cannot help but feel like exactly that — a minority. Among the 25 percent, most are not the same race as I am. Seeing organizations such as the African American Male Coalition and the South Asian Student Association gives me the mindset that there are only a few of us, and we must all stick together. I mean no disrespect to any of these groups — they are a vital part of the College experience for many minority students. Many people do need to be reminded, if only occasionally, that they are not alone.

Diversity means different things to different people. My high school was split down the middle — white and black. For me, that was a diverse environment.

When I discovered that there were as many students of Asian or Hispanic descent as there were of African descent at the College, I realized that my concept of diversity had been an illusion. Diversity does not mean equal servings. A bag of skittles in which half are yellow is still a diverse bag, and while we can argue that it
needs more green or reds, we cannot deny the variety that was poured into the bag.

Statistically, the College’s minority population reflects that of the state. Virginia is roughly three-quarters white. As a public college, the College draws most of its students from Virginia, and no one can consider it outrageous for its population to reflect the pool from which it draws.

I do not claim that the College is or is not diverse. All I want is for you to picture the image I saw earlier this week: two couples holding hands walking to the Caf. One consisted of a black guy and an Asian girl; the other, a black girl and a white guy.

Somewhere in that picture, no matter what definition you give the word, diversity comes to mind.

Bertel King is a freshman at the College.

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