April 28, 2008

Students, Profs Discuss Diversity

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“The system set up by the university to solve diversity-related issues is doing exactly what it was designed to do — nothing. Diversity kills us every day, every moment,” said Prof. Belisa Gonzales, a professor at Ithaca College at Diversity Kills Me, a dinner discussion yesterday evening. The event examined issues of diversity at Cornell and Ithaca College.
“Universities don’t want to diversify, they want to sell diversity to prospective students,” she said.
The evening opened with a brief review of a history of discrimination in the U.S., given by Prof. Alan Gomez, city and regional planning. The focus of the discussion then shifted to the students as they were challenged by Gomez to think of what diversity is and whom it is for.
“We have to look at such terms as diversity historically, and see how they function in the present,” Gomez said. “The history of this nation fits members of minority groups into stereotypes, and then pressures these individuals to shed certain aspects of their identities.”
Gomez described teaching in Ithaca in a multicultural university as “living death.” He said that culturally diverse instructors are present at Cornell to “entertain” Cornell’s and I.C.’s predominantly white student populations, so they may “become more diverse and thus better prepared to go out into the real world.”
Gonzales encouraged students to take action.
“Students need to turn this around on the university. You want diversity? We’ll give you diversity. You, the students, need to group together and become as active as you can be about these issues. The energy comes from you,” Gonzalez said.
One student said that she is not sure where she, a white female, fits into the theme of diversity. Another remarked that by the time she graduates, her four years worth of experiences at Cornell will be significantly different from the experiences of fellow Cornellians here because of her race.
She explained that race is often a key factor in individual’s choice of friends and campus groups.
Another student, a Southern white male, explained that he often feels as though others wrongly assume he holds false, discriminatory beliefs about minorities solely because of his background.
Gomez stated that diversity is not about culture, but rather about power and race.
“We need to start talking about diversity in terms of anti-racism and dignity, not color-blind multiculturalism,” he said.
The discussion did not address diversity issues related to culture.
“The speakers targeted discussion at race and didn’t really address the diversity that stems from religion, socioeconomic status or origin. These factors were barely mentioned, if at all,” Melanie Pettus ’10 said.
As the discussion came to a close, the students brainstormed a few ideas that could bring about change. Among the suggestions were an increase in the number of diverse faculty members, an increase in the number of students on the diversity council and more student funding for various diversity initiatives.
“There was a lot of tension, and many powerful comments were made tonight,” explained Clara Ng-Quinn ’10. “But it’s all necessary in order to create progress and move forward. Some of the details and realities of diversity-related issues are not pretty, but discussing them and future change is extremely important.”
The event was hosted by the Class of 2008 Council and co-sponsored by ALANA, Class Councils, Iota Phi Theta, and the Carol Tatkon Center.