What is it with Diversity in Universities Anyway?
- September 8, 2017
- Posted by: Association of African Students in India
- Category: News
What is it with Diversity Universities Anyway?
What language do you speak? What is your religion? What holidays do you celebrate? What is your racial identification? What is your ethnic identity? What is your culture?
Culture is that which shapes us; it shapes our identity and influences our behavior. Culture is our “way of being,” more specifically, it refers to the shared language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and material objects that are passed down from one generation to the next.1
What does it mean to be “culturally diverse”?
The term “culturally diverse” is often used interchangeably with the concept of “multiculturalism.” Multiculturalism is defined as:
“…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.4
Sociologist Dr. Caleb Rosado, who specializes in diversity and multiculturalism, described seven important actions involved in the definition of multiculturalism:5
- recognition of the abundant diversity of cultures;
- respect for the differences;
- acknowledging the validity of different cultural expressions and contributions;
- valuing what other cultures offer;
- encouraging the contribution of diverse groups;
- empowering people to strengthen themselves and others to achieve their maximum potential by being critical of their own biases; and
- celebrating rather than just tolerating the differences in order to bring about unity through diversity.
Why is cultural diversity a “good thing”?
Culture is the lens with which we evaluate everything around us; we evaluate what is proper or improper, normal or abnormal, through our culture. If we are immersed in a culture that is unlike our own we may experience culture shock and become disoriented when we come into contact with a fundamentally different culture. People naturally use their own culture as the standard to judge other cultures; however, passing judgment could reach a level where people begin to discriminate against others whose “ways of being” are different than their own—essentially, we tend to fear that which we do not understand.
Cultural diversity is important because our country, workplaces, and schools increasingly consist of various cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. We can learn from one another, but first we must have a level of understanding about each other in order to facilitate collaboration and cooperation. Learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world in which we live, and helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups.
In addition, cultural diversity helps us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own, so that as we interact with others we can build bridges to trust, respect, and understanding across cultures. Furthermore, this diversity makes our country a more interesting place to live, as people from diverse cultures contribute language skills, new ways of thinking, new knowledge, and different experiences.
1. Diversity expands worldliness. College might be the first time you have had the opportunity to have real interaction with people from diverse groups. Whether we like it or not, many times we find ourselves segregated from other groups in schools, churches, and our own neighborhoods. A college campus is like opening the door to the entire world without traveling anywhere else.
2. Diversity enhances social development. Interacting with people from a variety of groups widens your social circle by expanding the pool of people with whom you can associate and develop relationships. Consider how boring your conversations would be if you only had friends who had everything in common with you.
3. Diversity prepares students for future career success. Successful performance in today’s diverse workforce requires sensitivity to human differences and the ability to relate to people from different cultural backgrounds. America’s workforce is more diverse than at any time in the nation’s history, and the percentage of America’s working-age population comprised of members of minority groups is expected to increase from 34 percent to 55 percent by 2050.
4. Diversity prepares students for work in a global society. No matter what profession you enter, you’ll find yourself working with employers, employees, coworkers, customers and clients from diverse backgrounds—worldwide. By experiencing diversity in college, you are laying the groundwork to be comfortable working and interacting with a variety of individuals of all nationalities.
5. Interactions with people different from ourselves increase our knowledge base. Research consistently shows that we learn more from people who are different from us than we do from people who are similar to us. Just as you “think harder” when you encounter new material in a college course, you will do the same when you interact with a diverse group of people.
6. Diversity promotes creative thinking. Diversity expands your capacity for viewing issues or problems from multiple perspectives, angles, and vantage points. These diverse vantage points work to your advantage when you encounter new problems in different contexts and situations. Rather than viewing the world through a single-focus lens, you are able to expand your views and consider multiple options when making decisions and weighing issues of, for example, morality and ethics.
7. Diversity enhances self-awareness. Learning from people whose backgrounds and experiences differ from your own sharpens your self-knowledge and self-insight by allowing you to compare and contrast your life experiences with others whose life experiences differ sharply from your own. By being more self-aware, you are more capable of making informed decisions about your academic and professional future.
8. Diversity enriches the multiple perspectives developed by a liberal arts education. Diversity magnifies the power of a general education by helping to liberate you from the tunnel vision of an ethnocentric and egocentric viewpoint. By moving beyond yourself, you gain a panoramic perspective of the world around you and a more complete view of your place in it.
How can you support cultural diversity?
- Increase your level of understanding about other cultures by interacting with people outside of your own culture—meaningful relationships may never develop simply due to a lack of understanding.
- Avoid imposing values on others that may conflict or be inconsistent with cultures other than your own.
- When interacting with others who may not be proficient in English, recognize that their limitations in English proficiency in no way reflects their level of intellectual functioning.
- Recognize and understand that concepts within the helping profession, such as family, gender roles, spirituality, and emotional well-being, vary significantly among cultures and influence behavior.
- Within the workplace, educational setting, and/or clinical setting, advocate for the use of materials that are representative of the various cultural groups within the local community and the society in general.
- Intervene in an appropriate manner when you observe others engaging in behaviors that show cultural insensitivity, bias, or prejudice.
- Be proactive in listening, accepting, and welcoming people and ideas that are different from your own.6
Cultural diversity supports the idea that every person can make a unique and positive contribution to the larger society because of, rather than in spite of, their differences. Imagine a place where diversity is recognized and respected; various cultural ideas are acknowledged and valued; contributions from all groups are encouraged; people are empowered to achieve their full potential; and differences are celebrated.
“Diversity is the one true thing we have in common.
Celebrate it every day.”
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