Diversity Debacle: New residential communities are not diversity

KIANA NORMAN-SLACK; Online Copy Editor; normanks@plu.edu

Starting next year, Pacific Lutheran University will have residential wings exclusively for marginalized groups in PLU residence halls. The few new ones that I have heard about is the Students of Color floor in Stuen and the Lavender wing (which will be a gender-inclusive wing, focusing more on LGBTQ) in Ordal. Supposedly, this change is to make incoming and current students feel more welcome by having the opportunity to live in a residential community with the same kind of people. Some people think this change is showing that PLU is listening to them and others think this change is great and is moving in the right direction. I think quite differently.

PLU prides itself on diversity, but is this diversity? Do we really think so?

From Merriam-Webster, the definition of diversity is “the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.” Read that one more time. Did you see that word? Inclusion.

I just can’t see how giving people the option to lump together with a certain group advances diversity at all. Even with the decision to do so, we all know it will be marketed to people who identify themselves in these groups. Maybe I’m missing the point, but even after digging a little deeper into the topic, it just sounds like segregation to me.

Segregation is a strong word and I understand its weight, but can we talk about this? How would creating these wings benefit these different groups? Showing them that there are others of them living on campus? Sure, but there are other ways of doing so. We have clubs and groups on campus that represent these same ideas, we are in the same classes with other people and we walk by each other daily. When there are big changes like this one made on college campuses, a problem is trying to be solved with the proposed change. We have to ask: what’s the problem PLU is trying to solve here?

I know PLU (and other schools for that matter, such as Hampshire College in Massachusetts and University of California Berkeley) want to glamorize this idea and make these sectioned dorms sound like this magical discovery. In this day and age, and how far we think we’ve come in terms of diversity, it sounds absurd to me. I figure PLU thinks that creating more Residential Learning Communities will probably help increase retention rates (oops, did I say that?) but trust me, the reason students leave isn’t solely because they don’t see other people that look like them on campus.

So you say, “Well Kiana, don’t you know there are other wings that have the same idea? Hinderlie is for creative students, Harstad is for women and Hong is for international students.” Yeah, I’m well aware, and I also kind of think that’s a little ridiculous because I believe that all students are creative in their own ways.

In reference to the other sectioned dorms, we don’t leave the comfort of our homes to walk right back in it in a different place. College is the time in our lives where we experience discomfort, and we learn not only about ourselves, but the other people that live in our world, our dorms, our wings and even our rooms.

We want to call ourselves diverse, right? Well to me, diversity is integrating yourself with other people. Diversity is cultural sensitivity and understanding the lives different people live. Diversity is acceptance. Putting different people in different sections on campus and calling it listening is the opposite of going forward.

Now more than ever, I feel we need to learn about each other as a student body. We need to understand the issues each of us face on a day-to-day basis. That way, we can all feel included and welcome walking around our campus. That is what a diverse campus looks like.

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