Bennett: Rethinking the term “diversity”

Edward Bennett, Columnist

Diversity and the lack thereof have been hotly debated topics on college campuses. It is hard not to hear this buzz word when entering a college campus and seeing the centers and programs dedicated to improving the diversity problem that plagues many colleges across the country. It is also interesting to dissect diversity and take into account all of the groups that this word can represent. When “diversity” is uttered it can mean anything from ethnic to LGBTQ groups and often times is too general for its intended use. In specificity to Case Western Reserve University’s campus culture, it seems the term aids in the avoidance of bigger issues, such as the lack of black and brown people matriculating and holding leadership positions.

At CWRU, black students compose about five percent of the overall population, and black males graduate at the lowest rates. Clearly, there is an issue in the retention of black students on this campus. It may stem from a culture that does not invite us, or from a lack of direction given to black students who enter this campus. Regardless, the problem needs to be addressed head on. These statistics are troubling, not only because the university emphasizes diversity, but also because we live in a city that is predominantly black. Maybe “diversity” is too broad of a term to use with this situation. Perhaps the university should say exactly what the problem is and not use blanket statements when addressing the problems that face specific minority groups. For example, the specific incident involving Phi Delt’s blatantly racist costume depicting Latinx stereotypes was not handled accordingly. Instead of taking action against the fraternity the university defended their actions. If “diversity” and inclusion is something that the university strives for, then this issue specifically should be directly addressed.

When the term diversity gets thrown around, black students seem to get lost in translation in comparison to other groups and movements on campus. This is not to say that these causes are not important, because they are, but it is to say that black students on this campus cannot advance by putting their issues under vague blanket statements. This only muddles progress and diverts attention away from the issue.

Looking toward our leadership, the African-Americans who hold administrative positions on our campus need to be held accountable. How does the university host 1,900 armed officers during the Republican National Convention and Vice President of the Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Marilyn Mobley then claim in the forum held over the same summer that she did not know students lived on campus during the summer? Black administrators have a moral obligation to improve the atmosphere for black students on campus. Administration cannot hide behind the term “diversity” and believe that this is going to fix all of their problems. I am calling on them to do their jobs and make real change for the betterment of the black students they knowingly represent. We need help and using the same old methods is not working.

Improvement can start by having a task force established to figure out why black males have the lowest graduation rate. This can be done by bringing together black males from all academic years and establishing a network of academic and social support for them.

Additionally, there needs to be an assessment of the reasons why blacks are not entering CWRU and the stigma behind not enrolling black students from the Cleveland community. In a city where the majority of the population is black, there should be questions as to why the CWRU black population is among the lowest. If these questions are already being asked and this assessment does exist, then it should be shared with the community.

If there is an issue pertaining to a specific group of students on campus, the term “diversity” is not going to help. The administration needs to state exactly what they mean and discontinue these blanket statements in order to improve the CWRU experience for all students.

Edward Bennett is a third-year nursing student.