A Reflection On A Discourse And On The Discourse Which Has Not Been Engaged

Since the beginnings of the (recent) diversity discussion (the true beginnings of which are probably lodged way back in the historical beginnings of this University, which was founded by John Evans- a man who majored in founding universities and minored in slaughtering Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians in Colorado and mutilating their genitalia postmortem), there has been misunderstanding, resistance, and progress with regards to starting a constructive dialogue – a dialogue which has been devoted to whether the push for diversity is or is not relevant and how our experiences help us consider whether diversity is an issue of importance.

Oddly, there has been significant resistance to the very notion(s) of diversity at Northwestern and/or the even possibility of its importance in a discussion about campus life. There is resistance to the acknowledgement of racism, to the critiques of cultural incompetence and ignorance, and to the truth about Northwestern as an institution which still must “welcome” non-whites and adjust to their presence. There has been enough resistance to these things to merit a conversation about why it is at least worth talking about in a real, expansive, and all inclusive way on this campus.

This discussion of the importance of examining racism, inclusion, and diversity at Northwestern, contrary to popular conjecture, has not been an attempt to force ideas on people, it has not been a political discussion, it has not been combative. The discussion – at Deering Field, at a Political Union debate about a diversity curriculum, and at an event by the Asian NU Project – has been open, welcoming, honest, and safe. People of all beliefs, all viewpoints, all backgrounds have been engaged – agreeing and disagreeing with one another while arguing honestly about what diversity is, whether we can or should do anything about it, and how we should approach a decision to do something or nothing about diversity. This kind of discussion has promise.

As I began to reflect, I realized that this was the beginning of a promising juncture for Northwestern. At the Asian NU Project event “Why Do All the Asian Kids Sit Together?,” Professor Nitasha Sharma captured the serenity and sincerity of this challenging moment saying “this structure not only existed before students came, but it will exist after you leave…unless you all (we all) do something about it”. Prof. Sharma also provided a statement of guidance about how the ensuing discussions should pursue truth and answers in that we must seek “an honest conception that doesn’t pretend we’re equal just because we’re represented… representation does not mean equality”. This is doubly a warning and a call to action.

The moment is one of not only problem but possibility. However, there are a series of responses to the campus climate which are not engaging but detracting. For every reflective statement from students and faculty at these events, I could find many more posted anonymously online under articles and letters, and unfortunately some in the articles and letters themselves which refuse to add honest disagreement to the discussion.

The people spending time typing mini-essays into online comment sections and writing to the editors of prints on this campus can’t claim to actually think that this discussion is a waste of time, unless they just like wasting their time. The problem is 1.) those of us who aren’t actually engaged but have commented on barely tangential matters like political views, personal psychological approaches, and ‘word choices’ haven’t stated what it is about words like “racism” that prevent them from engaging the concept of diversity and/or they haven’t defined “racism” so as to make the case that the term doesn’t apply at Northwestern (if they could do that… their argument would have traction), 2.) they haven’t said what it is about diversifying Northwestern that might be problematic or useless, and 3.) their complaints about the combative and domineering nature of the discussion means they haven’t truly listened to the people around them who are talking about the issues OR surrounded themselves with those people at all. Disagreement is absolutely welcomed – the mediation of disagreement and the sorting of the better argument is the key to progress – but to make critiques which aren’t germane to the concepts and issues being discussed is like arguing that you don’t like a policy because of the politician, their party, or their particular approach to things, while not saying what it is about the policy you don’t like. Those who aren’t engaged are those who are simply finding reasons not to engage with the discussion.

The problem with the failure of many to enter a discussion, an open, equal, and safe discussion is the very problem which we hope to combat: a lack of open-mindedness on campus, an unwillingness to engage difference (even that of viewpoints and opinions), and inability to step outside of respective ideological bubbles as the many different people in the discourse have.

To any and everyone, I promise, there are people who agree with you who are engaged in the discussion now as well as people who don’t agree. In a real discussion about diversity, openness, honesty, and inclusion are afforded everyone, especially those who don’t think they belong the most – everyone who honestly engages adds value. The discussion is shaping up to take on an intensive form; there are points of contestation and question: What is diversity? What is inclusion? What should a school do about diversity? Is diversity a specific thing which can be accomplished and measured or is it simply a thing people become familiar with through experience? Is diversity about the number of clubs, organizations, geodemographics? What are the real implications in the difference between cultural and social diversity? Are all the suggestions of the Diversity Report salient or could some be cherry-picked to continue in the state we’re in?

Engage. Read the diversity report. See for yourself. We should all question our surroundings and see if the critiques being made of this space at NU are reasonable. Don’t be afraid to accept a challenge, because when you leave Northwestern your time for proving, for growing, for learning will have shrunk and diminished as college is one of that last times in life wherein you’ll be able to help shape the place in which you live to your liking. This is an invitation to discussion and a call to engagement; be brave.

The discussion amongst engaged faculty and students has been terribly diverse in every way possible; the only thing we’ve all had in common is courage… the bravery to come out, to be engaged, and to think about why a long-term, focused, and honest discussion about identity and inclusion at Northwestern is essential. Many who have attended these events agree; I’ve compiled a comment section of sorts of random students who’ve attended. Maybe it will counteract that which I’m aware could ensue below this article (something I suggest every writer do when they write directly and honestly about racism):

It was beautiful to see students talking about such a sensitive issue and to be able to challenge the mentality of many students; It was a beautiful sight. It’s crazy because the only time I ever see diversity like that is when an IFC party throws an on campus party and people are drinking and fist-pumping to Party In The USA and people at the parties don’t even talk like they were at the event.
– Michael A. Guerrero, Junior, SESP

I thought that this event was exactly what we needed. It was a well thought-out forum where students had the opportunity to meet people they would otherwise never have the chance to, ask critical questions and engage in candid dialogues, and learn and grow. I am glad to see that faculty participated and hope that they will expands their role in these discussions for the future. This event, however, is just the beginning and we must continue to actively challenge ourselves and our peers.
– Victor Shao, ASG President

Friday was a beautiful expression of a what a diverse community can and should look like. Even though the tone was open, people were challenging and struggling with each other over difficult issues surround race and racism. It needed to happen, and hopefully can set the tone for the push that has only just begun.
– Kellyn Lewis, Senior, WCAS

A lot of students haven’t experienced diversity in their lives, and that’s partially why they don’t know how great it would be to get out of their bubbles and meet other people. That’s why they are complacent. I think today’s event was so successful because it created an opportunity for some people who haven’t experienced it yet.
– MJ Kim, Freshman, WCAS

It was great to have a chance to sit down, without any intermediaries, and just talk and get to know one another. To have a chance to talk to new and different people as mutually interested peers and to come away better for it, enriched in terms of knowledge and sympathies (and potentially with some new friends) is to me what diversity is all about.
– Taylor Burgart, Senior, WCAS

I think the best part of the event was getting to hear from different perspectives who may have been lost in the shuffle over the last week. Everyone I spoke with seemed to agree that the past week has been a jumping off point for more and wider discussions including LGBQT, socioeconomic, and various other forms of diversity.
– Jean Rosston, Sophomore, SESP

In my four years at NU it was probably one of the more personal events I’ve attended — an opportunity for me to not only share my perspective with people who were willing to listen, but to exchange ideas and learn from those who have been in a position of both power and of vulnerability.
– Leezia Dhalla, Senior, Medill

The challenge is in getting the people who were not there to engage. The challenge is bringing people together who would not necessarily interact and create meaningful, long lasting relationships. Friday made me proud to be affiliated with Northwestern University, and seeing many of my student employees taking part in the conversations was exciting. It has left me feeling a heightened sense of responsibility to help create opportunities to meet the challenges we face. I’m excited to be part of, and witness the momentum I hope Friday’s event brings.
– Andy Smriga, Operations Manager, Norris University Center

I was enheartened to see such a strong and diverse turnout, suggesting that NU community does care about diversifying this institution. As a student who continues to meet with faculty concerning this movement as it further develops, the next step will be to incorporate the specific concerns and demands of the faculty into our demands for a more diverse and thoughtful NU community.
– Amrit Trewn, Sophomore, WCAS

I think it’s really important to have these kinds of open discussions. It is so much more of a value to actually discuss what’s going on, how it’s affecting you, and what you can do about it in the future.
– Erica Weilein, Sophomore, WCAS

I think these are important conversations to have, but I don’t think they should be one time things; there needs to be follow up and a continued effort. The groups we had today should meet up again and invite everyone else into this space.
– Elyssa Churney, Sophomore, Medill

I’m glad this is happening and I’m able to be a part of it… the people here want to talk; [but] there are certain people who are not here and there’s only so much you can do in this amount of time.
– Ben Gojer, Senior, COMM

This is a pretty exciting event. These issues are coming to light and tons of people are talking about [them]… I’m pretty confident something huge is going to come out of this.
– Hahnbi Sun, Senior, McCormick

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