Diversity: stressing the uniqueness of the individual

Jereme Cobb
Content Editor
@JeremeCobb

Diversity is a popular term people throw around like a good luck charm. But what does the word really mean?

Dictionary.com defines diversity as “the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness.”

This reference lacks a description of a person’s outward appearance or personal preferences, but instead contains a simple criterion: being different. It means people can be similar but still be unique or one of a kind.

However, our society makes us so conscious of ethnicity, race, gender and personal preferences that we focus on those traits instead of the individual to decide if they are diverse.

In 2013 Cameron University created a group called Diversity Diplomats. Those who see pictures of the 2014 ambassadors may scoff and say this group is not diverse because its outward appearance does not seem to be representative of all races but instead is comprised mainly of one gender. If we can look past people’s outward appearance, and get to know the individuals, we can discover a group’s diversity.

Personally, I like the definition of diversity listed above. However, not many people are satisfied with such a definition. They feel race, gender and ethnicity must be included in the definition. I disagree.

Diversity should be about the uniqueness of the individual. We should be focusing on who people are inside, not their outward appearances. Race, gender and ethnicity can help a person stand out more in certain settings and give them a unique perspective, but I don’t feel it should be a requirement to be considered diverse. Diversity is something we should have an active part in and be able to effect, not a label we are born with.

Recently the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) announced their Diversity Leadership Program is accepting new applications. One of their few criteria to be eligible is applicants must “be a person of color or other under-represented group (i.e., LGBT/disabled).”

While it is good to have programs that encourage minorities and other groups to participate, shouldn’t at least a few majorities be included in such groups to make them truly diverse, especially if our definition of diversity is the individual and not outward appearances?

Minorities and underrepresented groups need to have a voice, because they bring their own unique perspectives, ideas and culture to the table. We need to ensure everyone has an equal chance to be heard and not exclude people because they are different or we might not agree with what they have to say.

However, when we focus so hard to be inclusive of certain groups or minorities, we are in danger of being blind to the majority or others and discourage or hurt their ability to participate in a truly diverse society.

For instance, as a member of the SPJ, I would have loved to participate in the Diversity Leadership Program, but because I am a white male, I do not meet their criteria. Where is the equality in that? Shouldn’t people be encouraged to join in programs that encourage diversity, regardless of the dispositions they were born with? Doesn’t racism and discrimination in all forms hurt not only individuals but also society?

Based on US Census records, it’s speculated that in the next century the gap between the majorities and minorities will be significantly reduced, and further on may even reverse current positions. When that happens, will our children still treat each other as we do today, or will we start to treat each other equally today so in the future this problem won’t exist?

The term equality is treated similarly to diversity. Anytime someone applies for a job they hear of, or see, the term ‘equal opportunity’ and it ends up feeling more like a goal to fill a quota, and less about giving all employees equal rights and opportunities in the workplace.

Instead of focusing so much on diversity and equality, and risking ignoring or hurting others, wouldn’t it be simpler and more practical to create a goal to treat others as we would want to be treated?

While creating programs to encourage diversity and equality are needed, when do we stop focusing on quotas and buzzwords to start focusing on the merits of the individual, instead of societal labels? We should be helping each other, not because the color of each other’s skin or gender, but out of a genuine desire to give a helping hand to our fellow human, so they can be the best person they want to be.

In my time at Cameron, I’ve worked alongside people of different faiths, races, ethnicities, cultures and genders. I’ve had many great conversations about faith, politics and other topics. However, I’ve had few experiences where I could have joined conversations, but because I knew my views differed from those talking, or because I was in a majority group, I felt I would be attacked and my opinion ignored, instead of being welcomed and heard. No one should have to feel like they don’t matter, especially in a place of learning.

I encourage you to take some time to examine your own biases and decide if you want to perpetuate buzzwords and discrimination, or if you will join in looking past labels and skin color to find the true diversity in us all, and treat others as you would want to be treated.

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