My teaching repertoire includes courses where I address diversity, particularly diversity among college students. There’s a book I draw from in one course titled Diversity Consciousness by Richard Bucher. One of the things I like about Diversity Consciousness is that is a primer on diversity. Bucher does a nice job framing diversity from a global workplace perspective. One of the pieces I really appreciate is Bucher’s approach to common misconceptions about diversity, or diversity myths. In this post, I provide my perspective on these diversity myths, and what we need to do on college campuses to debunk and move beyond them.
Myth 1: Diversity = women and minorities
The first myth is that diversity is just about women and minorities. Adherence to this myth neglects to acknowledge and understand the complexities of diversity and the intersections of identity. The reality is that diversity is multifaceted, reflecting combinations of both visible and invisible characteristics.
Myth 2: Diversity is a new phenomenon
The second myth is that diversity is a new phenomenon. An example of this myth might be statistics that show growing numbers of women of color entering the job market, but this masks the fact that a large percentage of women of color have always worked. When diversity is treated as something new (or even novel), it’s a sign that diversity has been ignored.
Myth 3: Diversity = deficiency
The third myth is that diversity equals deficiency. We see this myth come up in arguments against affirmative action. When applied to affirmative action, the rhetoric of this myth is that standards are lowered in the name of diversity. Those who proclaim such rhetoric often cite personal experience, or stories overheard at the office water cooler.
Myth 4: Diversity = Divisiveness
The fourth myth is that diversity leads to divisiveness. The assumption within this myth is that if we continue to focus on our differences, we will never be able to come together. This myth can be particularly dangerous, as it serves to reinforce beliefs in the importance of assimilation to ideals shaped through whiteness as normative.
Myth 5: Diversity is to be feared
The fifth and final diversity myth is that diversity is to be feared. We create fear around diversity when the focus is purely on differences and we fail to engage in dialog about similarities. More importantly, we don’t engage in open and honest dialog about our differences in a way that promotes true understanding and appreciation of each other.
Let’s Bust These Myths!
I’d like to share some strategies for addressing diversity myths on our campuses, with our students, and in our work. These are drawn from scholarship in the student affairs/higher education field. If you would like a list of suggested readings, contact me and I’ll happily share!
Acknowledge realities of difference. We can’t get serious about diversity if we don’t have honest conversations about diversity.
Listen. It amazes me how often we have to remind each other to stop, and listen. And by listen, I mean really listen. We need to hear each other.
Conduct campus climate studies, and do something with the results. Institutions invest a great time of money, time, and other resources into conducting campus climate studies. But how often do we take the time to actually learn from the results, and then take action based on what we’ve learned?
We have to pay attention to working conditions on our campuses. Obviously we’re in this field for students, but we have to be cognizant of the working conditions for faculty and staff. Who do we ask to serve on diversity committees? Who do we ask to serve as mentors for students from underrepresented groups? Who do we go to when we have a question about experiences of a particular group?
Don’t look to members of underrepresented groups to serve as spokespeople. Take a look at #BlackTwitter sometime. Folx are telling us (White/otherwise privileged people) to do our own work. We have to educate ourselves, and each other, but not at the expense of members of underrepresented groups.
Talk with each other. I mentioned the need to listen, but we have to also engage in meaningful dialog.
Acknowledging and understanding these diversity myths are a great start. But, that’s only a start. To make sure these myths are not treated as fact, we must take action. Here are some ways to do just that.
If we’re going to debunk diversity myths on our campuses, it will require collaborative work. There are a lot of speakers and scholars who can provide that spark. There are some who can help with analysis of campus climate, policies, and procedures. I would love to engage with staff and students on your campus. Visit drbrianbourke.com/speaker to book me!