Diversity of what?

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President Spencer emailed the student body announcing a series of “open conversations” on diversity, specifically on the role of the Office of Intercultural Education (OIE), and invited the entire Bates community to participate in the conversation. So here’s my take:  the way diversity is conceptualized and acted on at Bates discriminates against numerous legitimate forms of diversity.

You may ask, “What do you mean? Bates has and actively encourages diversity through the OIE, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and through events like this open conversation.” However, Bates has lost the true meaning of diversity, and has focused on it superficially, using it as a means to distinguish itself from other small liberal arts colleges rather than pursuing diversity for its own sake. More concretely, Bates primarily looks at diversity in categorical terms through the lenses of race and gender, and consequently ignores others forms of diversity that contributes to the vitality of the Bates community that we all know well.

Two individuals that I know very well demonstrate the remarkable diversity in the Bates community. The first is a musician, a fantastic guitarist and vocalist. He works in the Bates AV center creating promotional videos for Bates and is an extremely talented alpine skier. The second is a pre-med politics major (I don’t get it either), heavily involved with the Outing Club and EMS, as well as a decent brewer. Also, he is learning Mandarin, and is currently studying abroad in China.

Yet these two individuals do not fit the conventional definition of diversity because both are white, heterosexual males from the East Coast. While Bates may recognize them for their achievements in other ways, their activities aren’t considered as a contribution to the diversity of the college.

As evidence to support the college’s obvious oversight of these other forms of diversity, one only needs to look at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s web page on the Bates website.

First, under the “Diversity in Campus Life” section, there is a page linked to the OIE, whose mission is “providing all of our students from underrepresented backgrounds a ‘space to be apart’” and to provide “opportunities for the entire Bates community to experience ‘time to be together.” What does underrepresented mean, and shouldn’t a college office encouraging diversity promote all forms, not those deemed underrepresented? The term, “intercultural” implies some groups fit their definition while others do not. In addition to the OIE, there is a page listing a variety of faith-related organizations on campus, despite the fact that some of the organizations listed don’t even exist anymore. Why isn’t there is page celebrating the diverse range of non-academic musical talent on campus, and the like?

To be fair, there is a page supposedly for all student activities, but only multicultural organizations are listed on the page. What about the other 90 or so student organizations on campus? I guess their activities do not represent the “diversity” of Bates, despite the fact that we have a wide range of politically activist organizations from the Bates Republicans to the Slow Food Club.

To be clear, this is isn’t an assault on these services or organizations, it just suggests that numerous other forms of diversity seem to be excluded from what the college considers diverse.

Further evidence of this exclusion is exemplified in the college’s policies. Most notably, the affirmative action policy only includes race and gender as identities entitled to special treatment. Why just those forms, because I wonder how many libertarian-leaning faculty are on campus? Probably very few to none. I guess intellectual diversity matters less at Bates than I thought. In sum, the administration doesn’t actually promote diversity, instead just the types of diversity that it deems representative of diversity.

Now what can be taken from this critique to transform it into constructive criticism?

First, the Bates community must make an ongoing effort to reframe diversity to include the various forms diversity takes. This includes an active public relations effort that represents the numerous activities on campus indicative of the college’s diversity. For example, instead of just listing the multicultural organizations on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s web page, list the major accomplishments of all student organizations.

Another important step in reframing diversity is to redraft the mission statement of the OIE and Office of Diversity and Inclusion to expand the definition beyond identity and concentrate activities and intellectual viewpoints, both excluded from the current definition.

Second, promoting diversity around campus requires financial investments. Currently, Bates’ budget for student activities is woefully underfunded at $210 per student, while Bowdoin receives approximately $442 and Hamilton at $440 per student. Also, the OIE and Office of Diversity and Inclusion should receive more discretionary funding to help students and student organizations in promoting their diverse activities around campus.

Bates needs to change the way we think about diversity on campus and include that redefinition in our rhetoric, activities and budgetary priorities to truly create a campus that embraces our multifaceted differences that makes Bates, Bates.

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