Northwestern’s Diversity Council has suggested a new diversity requirement for students that, if adopted, would go into effect Fall Quarter of 2015. This new proposal is needed, just based on what I have experienced at Northwestern. I remember during my Wildcat Welcome, we had a forum where students revealed things about themselves, all in the name of bonding. This discussion was designed to show the diversity of the incoming class, and the ways students can find a common ground.
No, NU does not have as many black and Hispanic students as my high school did, and there certainly is a higher proportion of upper- and upper-middle-class students — but that was what I expected when I enrolled. The lack of diversity does not really surprise me.
What I do find interesting is how complacent students can be about differences among them and the racially, ethnically and socioeconomically insensitive actions that can result from that apathy. The new diversity requirement would have students discuss issues of race and diversity while they are being educated. This is necessary, and this is good.
During my time at NU, I have encountered some insensitivity. I was never really a target for discrimination on the basis of my Hispanic identity, perhaps because about 90 percent of the people I meet don’t know I’m Hispanic until I tell them. However, I have had moments of frustration when it has been assumed that I’m upper-middle class and that I have access to all the money in the world. But those assumptions have come more from the curriculum ingrained in the school than from any particular person.
The need for the proposed requirement shows students are not incorporating enough diversity in their lives. This is a novel concept to me because I have never felt like I had one specific circle of peers that I can go to for support and friendship, so I tend to bounce from group to group. Maybe this requirement will break apart social barriers between students and have them meet new people. There is no way to monitor this, but this requirement can really have students move beyond their comfort zone and find the world outside of their fraternity, sorority, club, ministry, publication or other group.
Nonetheless, I’m worried about how this requirement is going to be viewed. My biggest criticism about Wildcat Welcome and all the events that students are forced to attend is that you cannot force people to bond. Unless there is some personality screening, it cannot be guaranteed that the students will get along or learn anything from each other. Wildcat Welcome had that forum that many people found so profound and important. I didn’t, and I ended up clashing with some people in my peer adviser group. This shows how efforts to recognize diversity may not be viewed in the same way by everyone.
People approach things differently, and unfortunately, there are students who simply want to continue existing in their little social bubble. We can hope they become more enlightened with this diversity requirement, but, as with other academic requirements, some students will slack off and not really commit to the requirement.
We live an age where people can cry, “Racism is dead,” while institutionalized racism and other forms of discrimination exist. I want more diversity and acceptance at this university, along with recognition of economic and class privilege. These situations can turn into “us vs. them” scenarios, but they can be combated the minute students step on campus. Wildcat Welcome can bring awareness to the diversity of the students, but it doesn’t necessarily address the issues students can face when it comes to different dynamics.
This diversity requirement is not going to be a perfect cure for the problems at this school, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.