Austin Stroud: CWRU fails to structurally understand diversity

Exploring the Spartan Pit

Diversity has always been an issue at Case Western Reserve University. Underrepresentation of minority groups on campus has historically led to a multitude of criticisms and protests that have challenged the way CWRU’s administration and student body interact. Last year, this type of activism was observed with tangible results, as the Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC) was elected into the Student Executive Council (SEC), although it barely had enough votes to do so.

Chances are you may not have heard of the UDC or the SEC, even though the former now represents student organizations related to diversity and the latter holds a significant amount of power when it comes to making decisions about funding and resolving disputes concerning student organizations. This surely seemed to be the case during the referendum to vote in the UDC, when less than a third of the undergraduate student body participated in such a momentous achievement for diversity on campus. Perhaps the other supermajority of the undergraduate student population had much more important things on their mind, like cramming for an exam.

Illiteracy in the structures of power that govern the student body, as well as those that contribute to the disparaging treatment of minorities at CWRU, constitutes a significant hurdle in trying to strengthen diversity and inclusion. If a large portion of the student body is part of the majority category and not affected by minority underrepresentation, then there is little personal motivation for them to be invested in issues such as the vote to add UDC to SEC. Instead it is much more beneficial for them to remain disengaged from such discussions, as it allows them to enjoy their privilege without having to think much of it.

On the other hand, CWRU’s administration did take forcible action to engage the first-year class. This year CWRU’s Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity had an answer to the illiteracy surrounding diversity in the form of Diversity 360. Diversity 360 was a four-part diversity and inclusion training program that was administered as part of orientation for the Class of 2019.

As a participant of the program, I believe there were certain aspects that were beneficial in promoting diversity and inclusion but also other aspects that reduced the program’s overall effectiveness.

As a purely educational forum for discussing diversity issues, Diversity 360 did well to highlight the way that power is distributed amongst majority and minority groups, and how that influences the ways that overt and covert discrimination can occur on campus. Touching upon categories such as race, gender, sexuality socioeconomic status and many other forms of diversity, the program shed light on subjects many people did not know much about and may have been afraid to ask and promoted action when confronted with discrimination. Although this educational element of Diversity 360 proved to be beneficial, it is only a marginal gain in achieving greater diversity and inclusion when observed in a broader context.

In the grand scheme of student affairs, Diversity 360 appears to be a token of progress that CWRU’s administration and those with majority privilege would like to claim as an answer to concerns about minority neglect. However, the potency of Diversity 360 is something that leaves much to be desired.

Aside from the four short sessions that I participated in during orientation, there was little to no discussion or follow-up after my first week. It became clear to me that Diversity 360 was a program aimed at promoting discussions of diversity, but never actually seeing them through for the entire year, let alone a single semester. While the hypothetical scenarios, motivational speeches and reflective activities all seemed to have a profound eye-opening effect that made you want to be a better person, this effect wore off quite quickly. Unless you were to join a minority organization or have an active interest in continuing the discussions sparked in Diversity 360, there was no means of reinforcing the knowledge and interaction, thus allowing that education to slowly fade away.

As of now, Diversity 360 exists as a thing of the past to be forgotten. While it contained powerful educational elements that enhanced the Class of 2019’s understandings of diversity and inclusion, (which is probably better than a complete absence of diversity training) I fear that this knowledge is soon to be lost, and the program itself co-opted as an excuse for claiming CWRU now exists as a post-marginalization institution, when in fact there is still a long way to go.

Austin Stroud is a first-year student and bi-weekly opinion columnist at The Observer.