Blake Oakey | @blakeoakey
Like most hot-button issues that I embroil myself in, I learned about this specific issue on Twitter. Throughout the recent UVUSA campaign, an underlying issue completely unrelated to parking has been at the forefront of the minds of the candidates and informed voters. The pressing question of diversity at our ever-expanding university is something that needs addressing by anyone who hopes to assume a position of leadership here. While most people can easily give a working definition of diversity, its benefits, and the way they have personally seen its effects, I am of the opinion that our generation has a misunderstanding of this concept.
The argument surrounding the definition of diversity is much more than an issue of semantics. The recent UVUSA debates between team One and team Up has brought this issue to light. On one side we have a team composed entirely of white men and women of a traditional student age group. On the other we have a man of Latino heritage, a woman of Mexican heritage, an older, non-traditional student woman, and a spattering of white guys. The first reaction to a side-by-side comparison of these teams is immediately to claim one team is absolutely more diverse than the other. This reaction comes back to our working definition of diversity which says the heart of diversity is race and ethnicity. Obviously a team of white traditional students is far less diverse than one of Latino, Mexican and non-traditional student backgrounds. Right?
My argument stems from a higher, refined, and all-encompassing definition of diversity. I would posit that diversity has nothing to do specifically with race, religion, age, gender, or sexuality. Diversity stems from individual experiences and backgrounds. A Caucasian student from Utah Valley is just as capable of having life changing experiences as a Peruvian student from Lima is. Ayanda from Zimbabwe and Blake from Nebraska may have grown up in completely different worlds, in different hemispheres, on different continents with vastly divergent paths, and still have experiences that are of value to the students they were leaders over. Is one more or less diverse because of their country or origin? Or because of their skin color? Does one’s perceived diversity have greater value than the other’s? Of course not. While there is, of course, value that can be found in students of international or multicultural backgrounds, their experiences, while sometimes vastly different than the majority of students here, are similar to those of their Caucasian friends and roommates born here in Orem. Each experience a person has, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or sexuality, is paradigm-expanding. That is to say there are no specific requirements needed for a person to experience life and to be considered diverse. Each of us is an individual and is different from each other. This difference of experience we each have is true diversity.
When we look at someone’s age, race, sex, gender, religion, or sexuality and assume they have had certain life experiences, or are somehow more diverse and or different than others, we put them into a box. We separate them from ourselves, our groups, and our communities. Their perceived “diversity” is wholly different from our own assumed “non-diversity”, and they are either put down, or put on a pedestal. Since every person is diverse and different, even within these perceived communities of “sameness,” the creation these separations is a disservice to ourselves and our community. I understand and agree with the necessity to give specialized attention to minority diversity. Highlighting minority, or uncommon diversity in a community of common diversity, is a benefit to all and is something I fully support.
Diversity, in my mind, can be broken down into two types: macro diversity and micro diversity. Just as micro and macro economics are equally important to the study of economies, and have found themselves into the nightmares of students for generations, diversity can also be divided similarly. Macro diversity is what we already perceive. It’s majority vs. minority. The big picture showing the majority white population, and the minority black, Latino, or Asian communities. Micro diversity encompasses individualism and the diversity of experience had by these individuals. While both macro and micro diversity have their places, our focus and value needs to be on the micro version.
My final thoughts on this matter are a request to my fellow students: Stop seeking out the old and tired perception of diversity. It doesn’t only reside in multicultural associations, or in the international student office. Diversity is all around. Experience is the makeup of diversity, and everyone around you has had a lifetime of experience. As we continue to move forward as an expanding university of diverse students, let’s remember true diversity isn’t found on a map or in a mirror, but in individual experience.