Encouragements and inducements toward diversity are indeed upon us as a society. TV shows like “Modern Family,” and many more, trumpet that theme—the USA is an ethnically and otherwise diverse society.
All this occurs without really defining what it is we’re talking about. We assume everybody recognizes and acknowledges—while not necessarily all agreeing with—the idea that the more diversity the better. After all, isn’t that what the Statue of Liberty stands for: “Bring me your tired, your hungry, your wretched, your poor…”
Well, taking a quick look at the prevailing operational definition provides a flashlight on part of the trouble with the concept. Cultural diversity, aka, multiculturalism, is:
“…a system of beliefs and behaviors that recognizes and respects the presence of all diverse groups in an organization or society, acknowledges and values their socio-cultural differences, and encourages and enables their continued contribution within an inclusive cultural context which empowers all within the organization or society.”
Noted sociologist Caleb Rosado, Ph.D., who specializes in diversity and multiculturalism, has identified seven important actions involved in real multiculturalism:
• Recognition that there is an abundance of cultures and cultural visions;
• Respect for cultural differences;
• Acknowledging that there is credibility and legitimacy in different cultural expressions and contributions;
• Valuing what other cultures offer and how they view things;
• Encouraging the contribution and voices of diverse groups;
• Empowering and encouraging people to strengthen themselves by addressing their own cultural biases;
• Celebrating rather than just tolerating cultural differences.
In real life, however, we don’t adhere to much of that. We most generally ascribe cultural numbers to equal or not equal diversity. That is, when you have a situation which includes several different cultural representatives, you most often call that diversity. But that’s not it. You can have a room full of Tower of Babel speakers without making a culturally diverse decision. Inclusion in the room does not guarantee or equate to respected participation in the decision made.
That is a great lesson African Americans got from the Civil Rights Movement. Inclusion in the pool of applicants did not guarantee an increase in the number of Black folk who actually got hired for a job, or got accepted for whatever opportunity was available. The essence is whether your group’s voice is at the decision-making table and being heard. As the definition says, fostering respect for cultural differences and valuing the point of view of others not from one’s own culture is what the process is supposed to be about. The next generation of USA and world leaders will come from such a process, or we will all be doomed by our own exceptionalism and exclusivity.
Take California State University at Northridge (CSUN) as an example. CSUN has a national reputation for being one of the most diverse university campuses in the USA. The school has much to be proud of on that score. However, one persistent troubling aspect of the university’s pride regarding diversity is that it seems to trumpet mainly the diversity of numbers.
CSUN’s achievement in diversity does not appear to be based at all on promoting teaching strategies that incentivize student/faculty/staff actual engagement in exploring and understanding how to accept alternative ways of viewing and thinking. In the various faculty gatherings on assessment instruments to measure how well CSUN faculty are teaching their students, for example, nowhere does CSUN measure or spotlight dialogue which demonstrates that its diverse student population is learning to be more accepting and respectful of non-American viewpoints.
In too many cases, CSUN classes simply have diverse students/faculty/staff present. There is no attempt on the campus currently to measure whether any growth occurs in respecting, valuing and accepting cultural differences in points of view. Very soon, CSUN students will be the executives and legislative leaders in our futures. Shouldn’t CSUN’s decision-makers insist upon and promote substantive diversity that actually gets faculty/students/staff to learn from one another while they are physically together? Neither CSUN nor any of us should take it for granted that that is happening already merely because of the numbers of CSUN participants walking, talking and sitting together.
Diversity does not just happen. It has to be worked at to become a reality.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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