March 26, 2012

Embracing Diversity

It always brings a smile to my face when I see the quad painted with the colors of the world as it is surrounded by flags representing all of the countries that Lafayette students come from. It is a pleasant and beautiful reminder of the fact that ‘the world is our campus,’ which was the theme for this year’s Extravaganza events. I always think that the week after Spring Break is the best week to visit as a prospective student, for that very reason. There is so much spirit and pride that comes from the diversity that Lafayette shares and it is a privilege to be able to explore this diversity through the hard work of the sponsors of Extravaganza.

Image from the Extravaganza Grand Finale presented by the International Students Association

My favorite performance of the Extravaganza finale. Picture borrowed from Lafayette's article covering the Extravaganza finale.

The week’s events included brown bags during every lunch period spanning from a round table discussion about the importance of diversity to the viewing of a debate on sexuality in African countries to a presentation on the differences between North and South China. I drew many connections between the presentation topics and my study abroad experience, which was a welcomed reminder of the fact that, oh yeah, I was studying abroad last semester!

The best part of all of these presentations was that I left with people from them who were willing to talk further about the topic. The most memorable discussion I had was about defining diversity and how the ‘American’ conversation is almost always centered around race because we self proclaim as a ‘melting pot,’ most specifically when it comes to skin colors. Being abroad in countries with very little diversity in terms of our perception of ‘race’ or skin color, I began to think back to what sorts of diversity were discussed there. In India, what I remember as the biggest division among people was due to their religion, or religious class. In China, there were different ethic groups, Han being in the majority, which were widely determined by geological placement.

Thinking back to these experiences made me realize that even our definition of diversity is shaped by our own cultural context. But the real question lies in what do we do with said diversity. The comment that sticks out in my mind most from the round table discussion is that a dictionary definition of diversity does not embrace the societal meaning of diversity that we strive to practice. Especially at Lafayette, I argue that our conversations about diversity need to be steered towards embracing difference in a constructive manner and using it as a tool for positive change in our community and our world.  Thanks to all those that contributed to the Extravaganza events last week, more of our campus is starting to embrace this fact and move in the right direction!

posted in Morgan West

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