The nature of the public high school I attended necessarily meant that people from extraordinarily diverse backgrounds invariably mingled. In front of parents and future students, our administration proudly boasted about the school’s diversity, claiming it to be its defining attribute. While I initially bought into the idea, I soon realized that the issue was more complicated than simply pushing different people past the school’s doors. I might have never recognized this lack of inclusion except for the fact that the idea of “diversity” was constantly beat over my head. I questioned what the administrators meant when they said our school was diverse; did they mean that there was a vast difference in the way people looked? The way people thought? Maybe diversity referred to people spending time and associating with others whom they otherwise might not. Regardless, cliques formed, groups met, and, once settled, people seemed loath to venture out of the social setting in which they jelled.
In high school, I felt that part of the essence of diversity (the issue of inclusion and exposure to new people and experiences) was swept under the rug: everybody knew that by definition the school was diverse, but everybody also knew that the diversity our principal so passionately discussed didn’t mean much beyond the bubble people filled out in their school application. Essentially, the issue was that diversity—what it meant, what it entailed—was not discussed; instead diversity was a given, and therefore taken for granted. This couldn’t have been better illustrated than by the fact that at least once a year instances of lack of understanding and respect were raised amongst the student body. For example, one year a vehement dispute arose over a meaningless issue on Facebook; before long, a group of students were labeled as intolerant and insensitive, and they quickly became the topic of conversation for the entire school. The next year, the student-run newspaper published an article clearly offending a community within our school, and thus reopening the wounds from the year before. In both instances the administration became involved, and both times there was not a clear resolution to the original problem. Understanding and appreciation of diversity, supposedly the staple of our community, was sorely lacking.
Regardless, in the months that followed, our school continued to sing the praises of diversity, refusing to acknowledge the existence of actual issues. As a teacher noted during one of my classes, “ we can’t pretend that there isn’t an underlying issue when every year a new problem arises. The fact that every year something new comes up is a symptom of something bigger,” he reasoned. Thus, while it seemed our community was diverse, the diversity meant little if there was limited interaction and understanding.
Which brings me to Amherst. We, too, I think, bask in the delight of our distinctions. We sell Amherst as a school priding itself on its community; yet time and time again we find similar issues bubbling to the surface—issues that scream, “no, we’re not all together,” or, “no, we’re not on the same page.” While I’d rather avoid specifics, I think that the issues brought up by the all-campus emails have highlighted the lack of campus wide cohesion; regardless of the content of the emails, the general feeling I took from them is one of deep dislike—something I find unfitting in a place selling itself as (or maybe which I wish was) a unified whole. Similarly, at the “Diversity and Athletics Panel” in February, conversation focused on a perceived athlete/non-athlete divide, particularly the notion and impact of the use of the word “Melvin” to refer to non-athletes. The general sentiment I took from the panel was that there appears to be a tear in the social fabric in terms of the relations between students, but that a) there isn’t actually one and that b) if there is, it is arbitrary and unfounded. While I agree that the central issue in the lack of general Amherst unity is unrelated to the relationship between those who play sports and those who do not, I do think that this topic of discussion—the fact that it was raised during the panel and is something the student body seemingly tends to think about—speaks to a larger conversation regarding student rapport, or lack thereof.
I’m not suggesting that the issues of my high school are the same as of those Amherst; rather, I mean to draw the parallel between my high school and Amherst to suggest that, like my high school, the fact that subjects like these continue to arise means that there are, in fact, issues. Particularly this semester there seems to be a monthly event that gets the campus talking; I feel that the divide (whatever it is, wherever it comes from) grows with each conversation and strengthens as each controversy is not discussed. Basically my problem is that I’ve seen issues emerge and die down multiple times this semester and, while I don’t have an answer for what to do, or really even a suggestion for what comes next, I just feel that the campus events the last few months are an indication of a bigger conversation that needs to be had.
Image from: http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2012/01/16/diversity-the-league-of-ordinary-gentlemen/