Lisa Coleman, who deals with issues around equal employment and diversity at Tufts, came to the Women’s Center First Friday lunch today to talk about issues around race, gender, and overall diversity at the Tufts campus. She mentioned many interesting facts about diversity at Tufts, like how at the vet school most entering students are women (I think somewhere around 88%? I don’t remember the exact percentage) while most faculty are men, and less than 1% of the student body here have physical disabilities (Tufts isn’t quite the most disability friendly campus).
One of the things she said that resonated most strongly with me was about diversity and how people seem to think that the approach to diversity on campus centers more around “feeling good” than actually knowing about power differentials, privilege/enfranchisement, etc. So if I have friends of different cultural backgrounds – if I have a friend from Chile, a friend from Turkey, a friend from South Africa, a friend from Korea - and if I go to different cultural groups’ events and eat their food - the Carribean Culture Club’s events and eat Carribean food, or the Pan Asian Alliance’s dumpling night - then I am diverse enough and don’t need to worry too much about it.
Wrong. You can have diverse friends, and that’s certainly good, but you can’t just stop at that. You can go to different cultural groups’ events, but you can’t just stop at that either. Diversity is not just having friends from different cultural backgrounds, of different genders, of different sexual orientations, etc. Really understanding diversity issues means learning about how you are enfranchised or disenfranchised because of an aspect of your identity – your ethnicity, the gender you identify as, your sexual orientation, your socioeconomic status, whether you’re able bodied or not. It means learning about privilege and the ways in which privilege has helped you get where you are today. It means learning about how the playing ground is uneven because of the interaction of the various ism’s: racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc.
Diversity training is so essential but undervalued because people seem to think that we are beyond that. Especially here at Tufts, when we’re known for having a good International Relations programs, when a large percentage of the student body is international, when we’re so into volunteering and “active citizenship”. Coleman mentioned how many alums have complained about not having had sufficient diversity training at the undergraduate level and therefore being unprepared when they emerged into the “real world” and started working.
But the question is, how do we integrate diversity training into daily life at Tufts? How do we make it an issue that people see as important enough to do extensive and sustained trainings on? How do we convince people that we have to push ourselves further out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves even more to confront and truly understand diversity issues?