By Wayne Lawson
We come to SMCC for the purpose of education. We sit through lectures and we are tested on our understanding. Through classwork and homework, we earn our education. But, in spite of the insecurities of certain governing powers, a school is more than just a factory to churn out identical parts for a machine we call society. We are diverse people of diverse experiences, diverse beliefs, diverse cultures, diverse passions, diverse abilities and inabilities – we arrive from diversity, we are enriched by diversity, and we depart with greater diversity. When we welcome diversity, we bolster our ability to adapt to an inevitably changing world – we are better citizens of our communities, our nations, and our world.
Tiffanie Bentley, Dean of Student Life, explains that the school has no specific division that is tasked with protecting or promoting diversity on campus, but must react to needs as they become apparent. Instructors have greater power of proactivity at the curriculum level, says Bentley, and student groups are guided to include diversity, but financial and legal obligations tend to leave the nurturing of diversity on campus to the students.
The attempt to define “the students” of a two-year college is not unlike the attempt to nail the waves to the shore – the rapid turnover rate means the definition changes year to year and semester to semester. Student groups emerge and fade with too great speed to maintain more than temporary cohesion. Student organizations are not necessarily more likely to achieve lasting successes where the school may not.
To draw from the wealth of non-curricular education made available through student diversity, it falls to the students as individuals. But how to begin?
“Start the dialogue. Swallow discomfort and ask. Make it okay and expected [to engage in discussion of diversity].” Bentley recommends not to be afraid to ask, and recommends patience when asked. This, of course, requires sensitivity and respect from both parties, but we are an educational institution and so we hope for a safe place to make mistakes as we learn and grow as a community and as individuals.
“Don’t hang with the same people all of the time,” says Bentley, and “go do new things.”
Lana Lee – Liberal Studies Advisor and Mentor, and more pertinently, instructor of Social Justice FIG – suggests that we may begin with self-education. “It can start with reading an article. See what’s going on in the community. Portland is rich with events.” Events are also held on campus, including recent events for Women’s History Month.
“One of the little things we can do is to use inclusive language,” says Lee. People First Language is inclusive. For example: instead of saying “the visually impaired man,” say “the man with a visual impairment”. We can also remove slurs from our vocabularies; even when we believe everyone is okay with casual use of a slur, we nurture intolerance instead of diversity with each use (respect for others is healthy, and not “gay”).
“If you see or hear something or feel something that is not right,” recommends Lee, “speak up about it.” Do not tacitly condone intolerance. And remember to speak up, not down – we want to encourage growth and learning, not to mete out judgment for antisocial behaviors.
We, as individuals, can welcome and nurture diversity, and we may all benefit from doing so. We did, after all, choose to come together for education; why would we turn our backs to the wealth of learning we may find so readily available in our abundant wealth of diversity?