An Informal Plea for the Reassessment of Diversity

Classrooms on all levels are expected to maintain fundamental principles of inclusion and equality in those academic spaces. Anything less risks alienating individuals whose identities don’t overlap with what has historically been a privileged demographic. I can say this with confidence because, unlike Reginald Rangoon III, I do often have to make decisions, rhetorically or otherwise, that other social groups may never even have to consider. Beyond that, I’m also susceptible to the internalized biases of instructors or administrations who aren’t necessarily advocates for equality. 

I say this in regards not only to various ethnicities but also to the various sexualities, disabilities, and economic classes. Inclusion can be as simple as referring to a student for whom this example is appropriate as a person with a disability rather than a disabled person. This person-first language is a linguistic and rhetorical choice that implicitly tells the student that their disability is second to their personhood.

The National Council of Teachers of English is not blind to the necessity of diversity within their own organization. However, their position statement on diversity is to “demonstrate sensitivity to the concerns of people of color” and further specifies that this sensitivity extends from the council itself to affiliated organizations (NCTE). Ironically, this diversity statement manages to paint a single-minded portrait of ideal practices in diversity when there are many more underprivileged social groups that are aren’t ostracized on account of race.

Five common elements of intersectionality

A cursory Google search for diversity connotation reveals the existence of a modern shift in the meaning of the word diversity in both colloquial and former usage; a deeper examination of those results brings light to the various grievances maintained by those who believe the word has lost its meaning, that it has become overused to the point of being “forced and inauthentic” (Andrews) and more closely aligned with marketing jargon than sincere attempts at bridging the gaps between social groups.

Where are issues of gender identified? Sexuality? Disability? While the etymology of the word diversity very evidently shows that diversity can appropriately describe differences between two subjects, the Oxford English Dictionary only cites examples of usage up until 1882, excluding uses of the word within specialized fields of study. This issue becomes more apparent considering that the OED also classifies diversity as being in frequency band 6, which contains “contains many nouns referring to specific objects, entities, processes, and ideas, running from dog, horse, ship, machine, mile, assessment, army, career, stress to gas, explosion, desert, parish, envelope, and headache” (OED).

Maybe this isn’t an issue for the NCTE insofar as their organizational structure. Perhaps it’s not imperative to make LGBT inclusion mandatory as well. However, the notion that racial diversity is the only diversity is on display there, and that philosophy could easily find its way into English classrooms. Diversity should be more about inclusion; it should be about a conscious effort to acknowledge the perspectives and needs of people from various backgrounds. When assessing diversity within an organization, I believe it’s important to do so with that consideration lest we minimize the scope of meaning when pursuing that diversity.

Sources

Andrews, Avital. “‘Diversity is Losing Its Meaning–What Should We Say Instead?” Pacific Standard, The Social Justice Foundation, 14 Jun 2017, https://psmag.com/news/diversity-is-losing-its-meaning-what-should-we-say-instead.

Jade. “Simple Intersectionality Venn Diagram.” Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/441563938443815175/.

National Council for Teachers of English. “Summary of NCTE Policies to Promote Diversity and Inclusion within the Council.” NCTE, https://www2.ncte.org/statement/nctediversity/.

OED. “Diversity.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/56064.

One thought on “An Informal Plea for the Reassessment of Diversity

  1. Ime, I agree that the NCTE’s policy regarding diversity should be more multifaceted. Could you explain in a little more detail, however, what you mean by “Perhaps it’s not imperative to make LGBT inclusion mandatory as well”? It almost seems ironic in how you phrase it, but I am curious.

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