A Racy Issue

To the Editors:

This is a response to Brandy Bones’ editorial in the 11/19 issue of The Maroon-News titled “A Narrow Image of Diversity: Broadening Our Horizon Beyond Multiculturalism.” In her editorial Bones asks: “What evidence proves that an increase in minority population would enhance the Colgate community?” While I agree with Bones in that intellectual diversity is crucial at an educational institution, I disagree with her presumptions that multiculturalism would not enhance the quality of education at Colgate. Rather, I see multiculturalism as one of the most powerful vehicles to intellectual diversity. This belief is not speculative, but based on historical evidence of American society as well as Colgate University itself. While the diversity initiative is focused on the racial demographics at Colgate, conservatives have shifted the focus to intellectual diversity, drawing a line to separate it from racial diversity. However, what is intellectual diversity? Is it simply the distinction between liberal and conservative thought? I believe that intellectual diversity goes much beyond political parties or philosophical interests. Intellectual diversity should provide multiple perspectives on a single topic, ultimately forcing students to think differently and see from different viewpoints. Before I go on any further, I must state that the current state of diversity – or lack thereof – on campus is a serious problem. However, from the student attendance at the Diversity Forum and general observations during my four years as a student lead me to believe that a vast majority of the student body does not realize, or even worse, care about the gravity of this problem. This is especially unsettling considering the fact that the problem is so explicit. Colgate comprises nearly 80 percent white students, with Asian Americans as the largest minority group at a mere seven percent. Just take a look at the faces in your classes, in the cafeteria or at social events. It used to shock me to be the only non-white student in a classroom of 20 students. Not anymore – repetition has numbed me to such conditions. The lack of racial diversity is problematic on many levels. Although it may be easy for white students to easily overlook this problem, this is not the case for most non-white students. While I do not wish to speak for the entire minority population, based on the observations I have made in my four years, I believe that most students of color are not satisfied with the racial demographics at Colgate: there simply is not enough. Generally coming from much more diverse areas, Colgate can, not always but occasionally, be an uncomfortable environment for students of color. Minority students also typically find it harder to adjust to Colgate than their white counterparts. The transition is also hindered by the sporadic cases of racially insensitive comments from their peers and professors. At the institutional level, the population of minority students at Colgate is significantly lower than that of other top liberal arts colleges. Lastly, the lack of diversity on campus is problematic because it fails to reflect the developing culture of American society. It often strikes me that multiculturalism is seen as a popular trend. It is regarded as a liberal-minded and politically correct movement in contemporary American society. However, statistical studies of racial demographics in major American cities show that minority populations are steadily increasing throughout the country. Multiculturalism is not a trend; it is reality. It is a fact that America is developing more and more into a multicultural nation, and any educational institute that strives to successfully prepare its students to become leaders of such a society must reflect that vital feature. Race indicates a difference of experience, especially in American society. Considering America’s racist history, the experiences of the minority and the majority are like two ends of a social spectrum. The umbrella category of minorities also breaks down into smaller ethnic groups with their own unique experiences. The social outlook of an Asian-American student, who moved to the U.S. as a child and acts as a translator for his parents, is not going to be the same as a middle class white student from a small town in Upstate New York. Nor is his outlook going to be the same as an African-American student, a Latino Student or a Native American student. For each racial group in America, the lens through which they perceive American culture is unique to the issues that face their community. These issues are created by the distinct historical experiences of each group in their struggle for equality and upward social mobility. Consequently, students of different racial backgrounds bring with them a baggage full of intellectual perspectives and ideas derived from their unique experiences. Therefore, to suggest that an increase in minority population would not enhance the intellectual diversity on campus is not only wrong, but disrespectful, for it is denying the struggles and oppressions experienced by people of color in this country. Is it really necessary for me to illustrate that racial diversity would enhance intellectual diversity? Just take a look at American culture: people of color have brought so many changes to the way America thinks in all facets of life. With their cultures, they have brought new perspectives on the arts, sciences, spirituality, political thought … the list is endless. This is no different on Colgate’s campus. Even during the small progress Colgate has made since opening its doors to females and people of color, new academic departments have opened up, providing perspectives from traditionally underrepresented groups that would not have developed at an all-white, male institute. Is this not intellectual diversity? Furthermore, students of color and LGBTQ students are continuing to make institutional demands, such as a broader range of courses and raising issues, such as what we are discussing right now, that would not be raised at an all-white, male institute. Is this not intellectual diversity? Remember Professor Shain’s e-mail? Would it have stirred up the intellectual tension, if it had not been for the African-American students who were able to see the negative implications of his comment? Even in such small numbers, diversity has clearly already brought intellectual diversity, and I am excited to see the intellectual growth it will bring to Colgate as it continues to grow.

Tim Kim ’05