April 22, 2019 | 59° F

ANDERSON: False diversity limits crucial conversations

Opinions Column: A 'Popped' Culture

Are the graduates being dispensed into the world from universities like Rutgers receiving an education that thoroughly challenges the dominant paradigm? Are universities producing students who are agitators or proponents of America’s myopic hierarchical view of success? Or are they putting forth students attempting to use their degrees to open doors and dismantle barriers for those systematically prohibited from access to spaces of socio-economic advancement? More specifically, are the future lawyers the ones who will be defending corporations or the ones opting to do pro-bono cases for economically marginalized communities? Are the future doctors and nurses the ones to set up free clinics in neighborhoods that struggle with health care? Are the business majors working towards solidifying the 1 percent, or are they the ones stimulating the economy through small businesses and entrepreneurial mindsets?

Some might say that it is up to universities to prompt such mindsets and unveil the possibilities of progress to students. Still, the student body’s willingness to absorb said possibilities and engage in this kind of discussion plays a large role in achieving this end. A student’s stake in a more progressive future society can aid in the enhancement or diminishing of one’s willingness to take part in discussion that depart from the dominant narrative.

From the outskirts, schools like Rutgers seem to have the racial and cultural diversity box checked nicely, despite major steps that still need to be taken toward equality and equity.

But other than that, what other kinds of diversity do we pride?

What value is given to the socio-economic diversity that heavily influences the mindsets, the types of organizations students join and the friendships students feel inclined to foster? When we sell Rutgers University to incoming students, are we selling them on the idea that they will be introduced to ways of thinking that fundamentally challenge or re-assure their current ways of thinking?

If someone gathered a group of racially diverse students from my hometown it is possible that they would still not have an experientially diverse group of people. That is because, at the very least, that group would be homogenized mentally. We all, for the most part, grew up watching Spongebob Squarepants on Saturdays in the living rooms of our middle class neighborhood. We all went to high school, took AP classes and had an unchallenged expectation of attending some college. Despite our diverse racial backgrounds we still left home in hopes of formulating a life that was either better or similar to the comfort of the suburban lifestyle we came from, finding friends with similar goals and imparting similar values to our children. Would this end goal not allow a person to subconsciously crop out portions of the college population who were not on that track?

That scenario does not sound like diversity, that looks like diversity. Having a group of people who only look different but think similarly is like having a crayon-box full of different colored crayons that all smell like Crayola, came from the same Crayola box, were made in the same Crayola factory and desire to ultimately work together to color in the same Crayola-owned coloring book the way society taught us, by staying strictly within the lines.

Is it possible that, given the social barriers of interaction and the inclination of college students to stick with what they know, Rutgers could be susceptible to Crayola-diversity? While helpful structures exist to vary the socio-economic make-up of our student body such as the Rutgers Future Scholars program and the state funded EOF program, I would argue that in 2016 most Rutgers students who stem from the same economic crayon box, stay and sadly graduate in the same box.

The dangers of homogenous communities not interacting are the kinds of dangers listed in Frank Bruni’s New York Times op-ed “The Lie About College Diversity”. In the article he states that universities are creating campuses that betray “education’s mission to challenge ingrained assumptions, disrupt entrenched thinking (and) broaden the frame of reference (for students).”

During my time here, I’ve had the honor of listening to the testimonies of many Rutgers alumni/activists who have observed the socio-economic shift at the university overtime. They have shared with me that in the past Rutgers made a direct effort to draw students from urban inner-cities. These students, much like similarly situated students today, tended to have a community based approach to higher education, and saw knowledge as a way to reform the system that immensely stifled their communities. They had a propensity for becoming activists on campus. After noting this trend, Rutgers shifted its focus to racially diverse students who were not socially and economically disenfranchised and therefore less likely to manifest into agitators protesting and calling for hard-hitting revolutionary change on campus and in the New Brunswick community.

Whether this is true or not, this is a great example of how socially barricading oneself from other frames of mind can inhibit the broader conversations that we need to invoke societal change. It is crucial to be wary of how often we are challenging our perceptions of the norm.

Michael Anderson is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in Africana studies and digital communication, information and media. His column, “A ‘Popped’ Culture,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Michael Anderson

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