Column: Is your definition of diversity even feasible?

Being diverse is all based on perception

The other day, in my public speaking class, we were discussing audience and the diversity of each type of audience you might need to present to. My professor moved the conversation from one group to the next, seeing as we all had different sources to analyze. She came to a group discussing the MU Diversity website and asked for them to discuss with the class what they thought about MU's diversity. A white girl raised her hand and said, "Well MU is diverse, but it's mostly white." My professor chuckled, and so did most of the students in the room. At first I thought her comment so odd. If our school is mostly white, then how is it still “diverse”?

Still, her comment had me thinking. From her perspective, the numbers on the screen translated to her that MU was diverse. But to others in the room, it told an entirely different story. In all honesty, she's probably never seen this many Black, Asian or Hispanic people, etc., in her life. Contrarily, many people attending MU have never seen so few people that look like themselves. For example, various international students on campus have probably never lived somewhere where they were the minority, because in their own countries, most people are of the same ethnicity. All of this thought was produced by one student's comment — "MU is diverse, but it's mostly white."

This student's one comment brought about a series of questions for me. Firstly, who are we to define what diverse is? Is it different in everyone's eyes? The Oxford Dictionary says that the definition of diverse is "showing a great deal of variety; very different." This definition of diverse isn't even specifically about race, and it doesn't give numbers or quotas. It doesn't tell us what it really means to have a "diverse population" because that just means a "very different population." At which percentage is an organization or institution considered diverse? Is it even possible to have a perfectly diverse population, especially without knowing what a truly diverse population is? Every time someone tries to calculate or look at how diverse an institution or population is, they're looking at numbers, but what do the numbers have to look like in order for an institution or organization to be considered diverse? What are we really looking at?

In my eyes, a diverse population is when whites only take up 50 percent or less of the population and the remaining 50 percent or more consists of other races. What is your definition of a diverse population?

As a nation, white people in the U.S. outweigh everyone at 77.7 percent of the population with hispanics at 17.1 percent, and blacks at 13.2 percent. Surprising? It was surprising to me as well. So is my definition of a diverse population even feasible? Probably not, and if it is, it's probably extremely unlikely. Perhaps MU is closer to being diverse than we think. Or maybe the U.S. just isn't as diverse as they'd like to lead us to believe, but in the end the definition of being diverse doesn't give us much information on what the meaning of diverse really is.

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