Opinion — November 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Diversity Is…

By Thaddeus Tukes

Thaddeus Tukes

Over the past few days, the Northwestern community has been mourning over the deaths of two students. While this leaves us with many questions, the main thing that emerges is mental health support. If they felt supported, then maybe they wouldn’t have taken their lives. If mental health was looked at as diversity instead of a disability, then maybe different institutions at Northwestern could approach mental health from a different angle. Maybe this diversity would enable our community to understand people with varying degrees of mental health in order to make them feel more included. Maybe this pattern can be changed.

In an effort to promote and understanding of diversity throughout Northwestern, Pulse magazine, NU’s premiere black publication, is partnering with The Daily Northwestern in a series on diversity and inclusion. As I am the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion on ASG, I want to share the stories of many different people around campus on issues that matter most to them, specifically relating to diversity and inclusion. By linking perspectives, my hope is that readers will gain a better understanding of how the Northwestern community can benefit from the richness of its diversity through inclusion.

But first, what is diversity? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements, especially the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”

While this may be the dictionary definition of diversity, this doesn’t match the etymology of the word. Diversity includes the prefix di-, which often means “two”, and implies a dichotomy within diverse institutions, usually represented by a majority and a minority. Diversity also stems from the Latin word diversus, which includes “opposite” and “separate” as part of its definition.

After exploring the definitions of diversity, I am lead to believe that diversity and inclusion requires bringing members of the “opposite” into the “general” space, to create true equality. This form of inclusion has historically been labeled in terms of race, gender and sexuality, but is applicable to many different arenas. Therefore, diversity must be redefined.

Diversity is individual difference. Because no two experiences are the same, diversity positively influences our growth and development as human beings, individually and collectively. Knowledge of things other than your own experiences helps prepare you for difficulties throughout life and understanding other people adds diversity to your experience, because you are incorporating their opinions (or the “opposite”) into your thoughts. For example, a room full of economics majors will have a wide range of perspectives as a result of their personal experiences, even if those experiences led them all to similar degree choices. Difference is something to embrace: it’s how we learn.

Diversity is racial. While there is no biological definition of race, events throughout history offer proof of the existence of race as a practice. Racism is practiced socially, economically, and politically, and the repetition of these actions creates institutions built on racial prejudices. The aforementioned mediums are used to create a hierarchy within our capitalistic society. This hierarchy is often based on notions of skin color and exclude people who don’t fit the “status quo”. In other words, “otherness” is created.

Therefore, diversity and inclusion is bringing “others” into spaces where they aren’t typically included to create equality. The equality of everyone in a space, such as a university should also be embraced.

I know that most people don’t like to discuss race because it can be a very emotional subject, but it would be impossible to discuss diversity without addressing it. Although otherness is a real phenomenon, as well as the concepts of “whiteness” and “privilege”, those terms are not necessarily personal. I often see whiteness used interchangeably with white people, and this creates huge misunderstandings between different groups of people. In modern context, people of color can perpetuate whiteness and vice versa. Understandably, this presents an issue with the term of “whiteness”, but it is the most fitting term within its historical context, starting with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Diversity is resources. When all people are equally represented in an organization, everyone in it has access to a huge database of resources. Since Northwestern emphasizes its diverse student body, all organizations within the Northwestern community should ideally be incredibly diverse. Each party would bring a different set of ideas and opportunities and this inclusion would create access to and comfort in all places on campus.

Diversity is understanding. If I accept you for who you are and you reciprocate, then it is much easier for us to peacefully coexist. Peaceful coexistence would lead to complete inclusion. From what I have experienced on campus, the perpetuation of tension between different communities largely comes from a lack of understanding. There are initiatives in place to promote understanding, such as Sustained Dialogue, and if we all participated in an effort to understand each other, maybe we could eliminate the next victims of exclusion.

It seems that the ultimate goal of diversity and inclusion is the elimination of organizations that are created to enforce diversity and inclusion. The mission of diversity and inclusion organizations is to make inclusion and institutionalized part of that organization. In other words, Northwestern would become a naturally inclusive environment for all students. With that being said, things that are considered natural don’t require initiatives to keep them as such. I don’t know of any university that has a department for walking and breathing.

Once diversity and inclusion becomes institutionalized, we will be substantially closer to an equal community. While this would be very difficult and would take a long time, this should be a goal for all members of any community. No person should be left out.

Diversity is Medill and Bienen students hanging out with each other. Inclusion is those students creating a space where Bienen students host concerts about which Medill students write stories, thus benefiting both parties.

Diversity is having classes and befriending people with “disabilities” (which I consider gifts). Inclusion is modifying the campus so that more students with disabilities can better maneuver the campus.

Diversity is looking around Norris and seeing all the different types of people enjoying food. Inclusion is all of these people sitting at one big table enjoying a variety of food and wonderful conversation.

Diversity is creating and appropriately filling the position of Associate Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion on the Associated Student Government. Inclusion is all of the amazing initiatives this department will generate for the student body.

Diversity is a partnership with The Daily Northwestern and Pulse Magazine.

Inclusion is writers from both organizations writing for the other organization.

I’m excited to see what we can do.


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