Dialogue among students, not forced diversity, can generate lasting campus change

Originally published in The Daily Orange. 

Marginalized college students across the country have been voicing their outrage for months in student activism efforts across the country, from Missouri to Ithaca, and even in Syracuse. Brown University proved it’s listening by recently issuing a diversity proposal for its campus — all for the low price of $100 million.

After student protests against the university’s lack of action regarding institutionalized racism and injustice, Brown released “Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion.” The working document covers propositions, which include increasing the number of minority faculty members and improving financial and mentoring support for low-income students.

It is difficult to determine whether these initiatives will truly bring about change. Even though spending money, like Brown did, is the most direct and tangible solution to the problem, diversity cannot be bought.

While the administration’s motives or intentions are most likely genuine, it is important to question whether universities simply give in to demands to pacify protesters and if these policies really change the day-to-day lives of students.

This does not mean that the actions of student protesters should be taken lightly; they have accomplished a great deal by bringing attention to these matters and forcing the people in power to respond. Their voices need to be heard, and their concerns need to be validated. But as important as it is to challenge the status quo, fixing institutional biases is no easy task.

If the storm hits Syracuse University with the same force, the administration should do more than throw money and make changes for the sake of saying something is being done.

For instance, a social justice center, as some students called for in November’s solidarity protest, has the potential to make a difference. The administration could undertake the project as a token of support, but what significant cultural change would the center accomplish when there are already other bureaucratic forms of inclusiveness, like the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the STOP Bias campaign and the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion?

As simple as it sounds, conversation is often an overlooked, but valuable remedy to working through misunderstandings. Instead of following a model of forced diversity, students should have a more natural outlet for dialogue for a longer lasting sense of empathy and belonging.

This can be accomplished by encouraging discussion in the classroom, inviting speakers to address racial and inequality issues to campus and creating more opportunities for students from different backgrounds to interact.

At the end of the day, all students really want is a feeling of belonging. It’s disheartening to walk around a new place and not see many people of similar appearance. It doesn’t hit right away, but slowly it starts to take a toll on your self-perception and begins to makes you wonder whether you fit in or whether other people see you differently. It all comes down to that human level and an individual’s daily interactions on campus.

These discussions are important so students nationwide do not write off their administrations as heartless promoters of racism, and so the administrations do not to assume students are whining kids with radical demands.

As renowned educational universities in the 21st century, these entire institutions are not completely ignorant and are not fully at fault. Forums will reveal students share the responsibility, too. It was students at Yale who allegedly hosted the “all white girls” fraternity party and it was “a group of young people” at the University of Missouri who yelled the n-word at student body president Payton Head this fall.

As much as students want to look up and demand those in authority to do “more” with diversity initiatives, sometimes they need to look on their own level and ask their peers to do more. Students must come together despite the divisiveness and acknowledge that this issue is not exclusive to students of color, but one that influences the entire campus culture.

This is imperative not just to eliminate implicit racism, but also to ensure we don’t just “buy” short-term solutions.

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