Diversity Must Be More Than Numbers
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 00:10
Come to Georgetown, they say, it’s diverse. Three years ago I enthusiastically ventured into Hoya territory accepting the Georgetown name and its pluralistic mission. Bright-eyed, I was eager to embrace and contribute to Georgetown’s abundantly diverse community.
After three years here, I am no longer shocked to find that diversity does not directly correlate with integration. Coming to Georgetown from a largely racially homogeneous school and community, I was excited to develop new relationships with people from different cultural, religious and racial backgrounds. When I arrived, however, I did what comes easily to most freshmen. I peered out into the crowd, pinpointed other black faces and flocked to them. In some cases, it was like we had an immediate connection through a shared cultural identity. We were able to laugh and joke like we’d known each other for years. These interactions led to hugs in passing, lunches in Leo’s and eventually weekend excursions. In a sea of newness and chaos, it was easy — convenient almost — to cling to the familiar. The familiar eventually became routine, and this routine provided a sense of security. Making those immediate connections sheltered me from having to search for new friends, and by new friends, I mean students who were not black.
My time at Georgetown has been special because it has never required that I celebrate one part of my heart and show no attention to the other. I did not realize that I had not ventured outside my friend group, which is comprised solely of other black students, until the Student Activities Fair. At the fair, I felt overwhelmed by all the activities that Georgetown sponsored. There was a group for every activity, activist group and special interest. The booths were like sirens calling on my passions and interests. Then it hit me; at each of those booths was a group that, while sharing the same interest, was racially diverse.
At one time or another, each one of us has been guilty of pursuing a friendship with another student based solely on the fact that he or she looked similar. The end result may have been that you actually have common interests, like a shared taste in musical genres, a favorite sports team or a similar upbringing. But in retrospect, did you pursue that friendship because it was with a person of the type you grew up with? The issue is not only that black students seek out other black students, or that Asian students seek out other Asian students. Sometimes, if black students grew up in a predominantly white town, they are most comfortable pursuing friendships with white people because they tend to act, talk and dress in a certain way. The issue is not that students bond over a shared culture; the issue is complacency, failing to push the envelope and expose oneself to other cultures and groups of people.
What good is diversity if we are not integrated? How can I learn about other cultures and therefore expand my horizons if, outside of the classroom, I rarely interact with students who are from different socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds? At times, these racial, religious or cultural commonalities hinder students from stepping outside of their social comfort zones and developing valuable relationships with completely different people than themselves.
This extraordinary gap between those who want to live diversely and those who don’t is unfortunately a prominent feature in our society, but it need not define us. We can accept the close-mindedness that the world has taught us, or we can do something greater. We can expect the unthinkable, expel the unacceptable and excel at the unexpected. The next time you’re walking into Leo’s, I challenge you to step outside of yourself, take a look around and question why so many people are sitting so close, yet so far apart.
Taylor Griffin is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.