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Diversity at JMU: IT EXISTS

I firmly believe in the truth and validity of everyone’s experience. Perception constitutes reality. That is why I have chosen to discuss this issue. I am fully aware of the #MinoritiesAtMadison movement, and I am also aware of the article that my fellow blogger, truequeerlatte, has written for ShoutOut. Let me be clear: It is not my intention to discredit this movement, or the experiences held by those involved. I simply wish to offer a different view…my view.

The word “diversity” encompasses more than just race. The concept of diversity means acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These differences not only encompass race and ethnicity, but the dimensions of gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and other ideologies.  Diversity is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding individuality, and moving beyond simple tolerance to the celebration of differences within each and every person. If we are discussing diversity in this context, I cannot even begin to fathom dubbing JMU a university that is in opposition of this view.

My experience at this school has been nothing but diverse. I have encountered students, faculty, and members of Harrisonburg’s community that have challenged my beliefs, outlooks, and attitudes about life. This may be because of the people that I associate with, the organizations I am a part of, or the classes I have taken. Call me blind, but I do not see a lack of diversity on JMU’s campus. Take, for example, the a cappella group I have been a member of for the past 6 semesters.

To the person who is only using their eyes to assess diversity, Low Key is diverse. Of our 17 members, 2 are black, 2 are Indian-American, 1 is Iranian-American, 1 is half Serbian/Croatian and half Russian/Jew, 1 is Afghan, 1 is Korean, 1 is Vietnamese, and 8 are white. Statistically speaking, 53% of this organization is “diverse.”  Now, to the person who does not consider diversity to be a concept that is wholly dependent on race, Low Key is diverse. We were all raised in different states, different families, different households. We are all involved in different organizations on campus, and have very different majors: Alpha Sigma Alpha, Student Ambassadors, UPB, SafeRides, Theater, Communications, SMAD, Physics, Foreign Languages, Geology…the list goes on. We all believe and experience different things, understand and learn in different ways. One thing unites us: music. One thing keeps us together: family. We are a family because we accept each other, respect each other, love each other and celebrate each other for our differences. If this is not a demonstration of diversity, at all of its levels, I am not sure what is.

Diversity means so much more than just acknowledging, or tolerating, difference. Diversity is the embodiment of a set of conscious practices that involves awareness. I know JMU to be a place where students, organizations, and faculty accept, understand, and engage this concept in their daily lives.  I also know JMU’s diversity to stretch far beyond this statistic:

Diversity is more complex than difference in race. Let’s talk about spreading an awareness of that idea. It is a known fact that JMU’s campus is overwhelmingly white, but why should being white make someone any less diverse than their black, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Iranian, or Afghan counterpart? In my mind, the answer is, it doesn’t. Diversity is around us, we just need to know what to look for.  

 

5 Responses to “Diversity at JMU: IT EXISTS”

  1. Xenawarriorprincess

    Wow, very powerful. I think it’s awesome that you had the courage and passion to write this. I agree that diversity is indeed just more than race, but still recognizing that it encompasses different ethnicity. It is an interesting juxtaposition, having read the other blogger’s article about her own experience at JMU and then reading yours. As you said, everyone’s experience is valid and your not trying to take that away from anyone. But I agree that JMU keeps a mindful and positive eye on diversity; appreciating people for who they are under the surface and on the surface. I think we can hope for a world where we forget about race, gender, or sex and recognize people on the basis of their individuality, rather than surface characteristics. However, I realize this issue is much more than hoping and action needs to be taken. I think promoting discourse on both perceptions–yours and the other blogger’s–will help both of you and the university. But again, kudos to you for an enlightening post.

    Reply
    • imagineherstory

      Interesting comment, though I have to disagree with one aspect of it. You say that we should “hope for a world where we forget about race, gender, or sex and recognize people on the basis of their individuality, rather than surface characteristics.” I actually hope we never forget about race, gender, sex, or any other characteristics because each of those components are an ingrained part of who we are as individuals. People say things like, “I don’t even see you as black” and I have a huge problem with this “colorblind” mentality. Denying someone their race is denying them an integral part of who they are and how they see themselves. Often times it’s not just a race but a culture that is imbued by a race that you are then saying you don’t see. Race, sex, gender aren’t just surface characteristics that are deeply embedded into our personalities and shape how we see ourselves and the world. I mean think about your own identity, if someone were to ask you to name things that you are wouldn’t woman be part of that? Would you want someone to say to you “I don’t see you as a woman”? I’m not trying to call you out, I just think that we should value people because of their “surface” characteristics rather than trying to ignore them. The moment that occurs is the moment we have truly comprehended what it means to value diversity.

      Reply
  2. yourknightinshiningtutu

    Wow, this was a great article! It was beautifully written, well argued, and very moving. I’m glad that this was, likewise to Truequeerlette’s post, a personal view as opposed to a general criticism or statement about everyone’s JMU experiences. I love that you highlight this fact in your piece, because truly everyone experiences events, places, and people differently and has their own views on where they stand on a subject. So though I was able to see Truequeerlete’s point of view on diversity at JMU, I was equally moved by yours and your inspirational thoughts on how people even look at diversity. I agree whole-heartedly that diversity is around us because no one (regardless of their skin color) is alike or has the same background. So, great post!! And thanks for sharing your personal JMU experience with us!

    Reply
  3. dudewithoutacoolname

    I am not arguing against anything said in this post. It is true that diversity is everywhere. It is not just about your race or ethnicity. That said, I feel like this is already a prevalent idea at JMU. People know diversity is all around us in different forms and this idea is forced-fed to us during Orientation as first-year and transfer students. However, I feel like this “Diversity is everywhere” talk is somewhat of an attempt to steer away the conversation from a bigger issue.

    There is diversity everywhere at JMU, but the scope of diversity here is not very large. No one here has had the same experiences, but there are very many similar experiences. I can be in a room with a random 100 students and easily have a good two or three dozen that are white, middle-class or upper-class students from NoVa whose parents also went to college.

    We – the students, the faculty, the administration – need to make an effort to bring in people from more diverse ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds. The more diverse perspectives we have on campus, the more we can learn from each other and be more accepting and well-rounded individuals.

    And the more students we have from minority groups, the more comfortable those students will feel on campus. Just because some feel comfortable and JMU doesn’t mean everyone does.

    Reply
    • SpongebobBloggerpants

      Dudewithoutacoolname: Thank you for reading my post! I appreciate your respectful response, but even if you were “arguing against” my thoughts, I would not be offended. While the primary objective of this post was to share my personal lived experience, it was also to further the discussion of this issue. I am glad the conversation about diversity is happening. I just wanted to provide insight into a different perspective about it. I agree with your statement that “diversity is everywhere at JMU, but the scope is not very large,” which is why I never denied that diversity is a problem here. I simply wanted to point out that it exists. That is also why I included a figure (toward the end of the article) that fully illustrates this point. I, like most students and faculty at this school, am aware that there is a massive lack of diversity. Providing a point of optimism via the subjective truth of my own experience does NOT mean that I am denying JMU’s issues with diversity. Thank you for recognizing that! Thanks again for providing your input, I truly do appreciate it.

      Reply

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