Diversity is an integral part of a moral code of reciprocity that teaches goodwill and mutual respect toward others in spite of the characteristics that make people different.
Understanding the rights of the individual and infringements upon those rights is key to accepting diversity. To allow privileges or punishments against a person because they belong to a particular group is wrong. It is to say the persons not valued for the qualities that make him or her good, but only for the qualities that make members of his or her group good. Either way, it is important for students to resist forming perceptions about an individual before they know the person.
I have been fortunate enough to participate in extended orientation this fall as a diversity facilitator, which has been a rewarding experience. My goal for the sessions was to show new students how to understand the role of the individual and the empowerment associated with individuality and independence. I believe that by gaining a better sense of self, they will be more comfortable interacting with each other and will form a community based on mutual respect.
The Center for Student Diversity revamped its extended orientation program this year, making it more interactive and personal so that students would have an investment in the topic at hand. Throughout the program we explored the idea of stereotypes, and how to find a means to move beyond them. There are four activities in the program. The first asked students to give their thoughts on diversity. The second allowed participants to share their experiences about being stereotyped or witnessing others being stereotyped. The third asked participants to describe how they may have stereotyped someone else. The last activity asked students to step forward and identify with a particular category, if they felt comfortable doing so, in order to show that just because people identify with that category doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be associated with a particular stereotype. I think the program is great because it promotes self-esteem, responsibility and respect. It does not decrease one’s sense of self-esteem by making diversity seem like an exclusive collectivist ideology. Instead, it praises the individual’s right to live his or her life as they choose.
A few of the negative questions and comments I’ve received about diversity claim that diversity divides rather than promotes a sense of community, that putting in practice diversity seems to create a bias against caucasians, that it is irrelevant amongst college students in this day and age and that it is irrelevant if you don’t associate with or fit into a particular group. Students who don’t think they are diverse in some capacity do themselves a great disservice. They exclude themselves from a community that welcomes others with tolerance of respect for their differences.
Diversity is not racially based but encompasses socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, political preferences, gender and sexual orientation; diversity does not exclude people, but rather seeks to include them. Finally, it is up to each individual student to take the initiative to engage in the practice of diversity. Every student has the right and the ability to spread awareness about this idea.