Weakening Definition of Diversity

By Jaylin Paschal

Diversity is defined as “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.” It is a theory which is often times measured in statistics and quotas, supported by statistics and quotas, and then determined by statistics and quotas. We find ourselves doing headcounts of people of color and roll calls of ethnicities, hoping that percentages render our spaces “diverse.”

But, as someone who went to a predominantly white high school and now attends an HBCU, I often wonder if that's an honest detector of diversity; the mere coexistence of different groups? Should we require more than numerical values and shared space to define diversity?

Allowing the meaning of diversity to rely solely on a simple census of “who’s who” ultimately weakens its concept. Simply counting differences is more accurately described as “variety,” rather than diversity, and in the “melting pot” that America claims to be, this weakening is a serious threat to the fabric of our culture.

In the most racially and ethnically diverse country in the world, meeting a certain quota of people of color per square unit is not enough anymore. As American society becomes more diverse, and therefore more complex, it is necessary that we understand wholeheartedly what it means to be a melting pot. Diversity is only a strong concept when applied beyond quotas, and measured in terms of cultural exchange and acceptance. Diversity must be based on evaluation of interactions between people of different backgrounds. It is not only who is in the room, but how they behave together and treat one another. There is no point in a space being diverse if xenophobia and intolerance are prevalent in our interactions. Diversity is about developing a deeper pride of self and a broader appreciation for others. Diversity is about being together, not just being within proximity of one another. Diversity is about an exchange of cultures, customs, and belief systems, and the acceptance of different outlooks. Diversity is about sharing your own experiences and pulling from others’. It is not about headcounts or roll calls.

It is obvious that diversity is influenced and supported by numbers, but it is by no means determined by them. While policies, laws, and quota systems may exist to facilitate diversity, there is still a serious lack of fluidity when these policies must begin to work and foster a sense of community. Socially, America still deflects from unifying citizens by avoiding serious, direct conversations about cultural differences in the media and in our political systems. This is why news commentators are able to see a few people of color in the crowd of a Trump rally, and call the room “diverse,” even after these spaces have repeatedly proven to be particularly intolerant and hostile in the past. Or why Silicon Valley can keep having diversity conferences without actually hiring the people they fly out. Or why collections shown by black designers at Fashion Week are always, always deemed "streetwear." Or why Karlie Kloss can pose in yellow-face in Vogue's "diversity" issue. Or why Kendall Jenner would bulldoze her white, ultra-privileged self through a crowd of protesting people of color to sell Pepsi. Therefore, we cannot depend on Webster Diversity to safeguard our spaces from prejudice, bigotry, or intolerance. We must develop an understanding of the perspectives of those from different backgrounds and learn to thrive within a multicultural, multiethnic environment, rather than just occupy the space. By doing so we will restore diversity to its true glory, strengthening its meaning and allowing it to shape our everyday lives.

Jaylin PaschalComment