Essay on Diversity, Part III: Reflection

This final section is an analysis of the previous two, and a final personal reflection on the event.

 

Part 3: Reflection

 

The controversial “Affirmative Action” seems, based on these articles as evidence and the demand for diversity by groups represented at the Price Town Hall Meeting, to be an acceptable solution to the problem of a lack of diversity on campus, but it can only go so far. It is our job, each one, as students at the University and as citizens of our respective areas to reach out to those who are different to make them feel welcome and unified with the group as a whole. It only takes a few to be the connectors and reach out to those who feel like outsiders.

 

It is also necessary for not just a few of us to be able to listen and understand others and the problems they face from day to day. Something I really picked up from the Town Hall Meeting is that we often need to just take a break and come together as a community to discuss, tell, and listen. Events like the Town Hall meeting encourage people to speak out in a safe and accepting environment.The only way some problems become known, such as those many revealed in the meeting, is by being outright stated by those experiencing them. Something our society generally lacks is a willingness to discuss and reason out our problems with one another, at least as I have seen it. Instead of addressing issues, we sweep them aside to be dealt with when something bursts like the SAE video, and only then do we come out and start talking about our problems together. A problem that arises that I think is essential to understanding discrimination against Native Americans specifically on campus and in broader society is that an underrepresentation of Native Americans or an isolation from broader society disallows their opinions to be heard. A byproduct of this becomes a presumed understanding of their culture without basis and a subsequent misinterpretation of how these people are able to interact with the rest of society.

 

It is, on the other hand, just as important, if not more so, to be open to the words of those speaking and to try to understand them from their viewpoint. The personal relationships built with people of diversity logically always outweigh a few passing acquaintances, and helps to not just have a wide variety of viewpoints and methods of discourse and problem-solving, but also to have a deep and broad understanding of the ways others think, in order that we might think in that way ourselves.

 

It really struck me when I heard our Native American Students speak. I always thought there was something fishy about our calling ourselves the “Sooners,” that is, the cheaters who ran before those who played by the rules and claimed the land with the “boom.” But this view was entirely exclusive of the Native Americans who had been here for god-knows-how-long before any of this had been conceived, and I never would have noticed this had I not had it pointed specifically out to me. This viewpoint I had never considered ended up radically altering my view of the university, its culture, and the history surrounding the position we are all in today. There is so much I will never know and could never come close to understanding about the way we live in this world together, but it is just this that we have to try to do.

 

It surprises me to find out things like this. I know it shouldn’t, but every time I discover a new side of an issue, it does surprise me. Little bits of racism like this happen all around us, all day, every day in the people with whom we interact. And no one ever notices until it’s been pointed out. I think it is vitally important, therefore, to keep looking for problems to fix, little by little. The more we broaden our understanding of those around us, the better off we all become. One thing I can say for sure: for better or for worse, I’ll think twice before responding to a shout of “Boomer!”

Essay on Diversity, Part II: Article Relations

In this section of the essay, I had to find a couple of published, peer-reviewed articles/studies that related to the topic, one to my specific group, and one to diversity generally.

 

Part 2: Article Relations

 

After a search, I discovered two articles related to the topics of diversity on a college campus which I found to be very helpful in my continued understanding. The first is a meta-analysis of several other peer-reviewed documents which discusses the quantifiable cognitive effects of diverse interactions on a campus both through required diversity courses and the byproduct social contact between students. The second goes into depth through interviews discussing the challenges faced by Native American students, both on campus and back home.

 

The Meta-Analysis by Dr. Nicholas Bowman shows systematically the effects on cognitive development rather than reductions in racial prejudice or bias, and what this implies as far as further research is concerned. He makes a good case “that several types of diversity experiences—interpersonal interactions with racial and nonracial diversity, diversity coursework, and diversity workshops—are positively related to cognitive development.” Bowman links racial diversity more closely with cognitive development than other kinds of diversity, but he did find that such forced interactions only helped marginally. It was actually “interpersonal interactions” which were the main factor in the increase in cognitive, reasoning, and problem-solving skills, going to show that putting people in the same place only goes so far – they have to be able to interact and connect in order for the real benefits to be had. I found it interesting to view actual data in support of affirmative action like programs, rather than hearing it talked about without basis for analytical reasoning. I think this is one thing lacking in many discussions about race: there is something to be gained by all parties involved which is physically measurable and benefits generally, not just in a social or civil context.

 

The article about Native American students’ abilities to perform in the higher education system by Dr. Aaron Jackson, Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology and Special Education at Brigham Young University, et al., showed a number  First, that racism experienced by the students appeared as a topic in discussion only after a level of trust was established with the interviewees. They seemed to experience a number of both external systematic factors (e.g. getting off with having done less work, because less was expected of them) and internal cultural factors (e.g. being embarrasses to speak up in class or being the only native student in the room, which leads to pressure and isolation). The researchers, like me, were caught off guard by the extent and frequency that the interviewees experienced both active and inactive racism. One example from the article that paralleled the ideas discussed by many people other than Native American students in the Town Hall Meeting was the inability of Native students to fit in when it came to finding a study group or otherwise fitting in. More than the students’ abilities to adapt themselves, here I think is a real way we can make a positive change wherever we see it. Just the action of engaging diverse students will help them better mesh into the social networks necessary for some to succeed in college.

 

References:

Bowman, Nicholas A. “College Diversity Experiences and Cognitive Development: A Meta-Analysis.” Review of Educational Research. Sage Journals, Mar. 2010. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

Jackson, Aaron P., Steven A. Smith, and Curtis L. Hill. “Academic Persistence Among Native     American College Students.” Project MUSE. American College Personnel Association, 2003. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

 

Essay on Diversity, Part I: Event Experience

The following is a modified essay I wrote for a class that was heavily involved in diversity. I’ve been meaning to reflect on the event described herein, and this gave me just the opportunity to do so. So I thought I’d share it! I’ve split it into three parts, because I think the whole thing is a bit too long for my taste to include all three parts in one post.

 

Part 1: Event Experience

 

The hall was filling up when I got there, and would continue to fill until only standing room remained. It was a Wednesday evening, March the 11th, and the Price College of Business Town Hall Meeting was about to begin. Just the previous Sunday, the SAE video had been released, spurring controversy, debate, and discussion – an uproar of outrage and surprise for many students, and a tragic but necessary spark for dialogue. If I have my facts right, based on the source that told me about the meeting, it was pure coincidence that the event was postponed to this date due to complications the week before, perfectly setting it up as an open forum for the events of the weekend to be addressed, and to open a discussion as to how the problem of racism and discrimination can be addressed on campus. But more importantly, this was going to be a place of safe communication and the sharing of experiences and opinions by everyone present.

 

The first to speak was the dean of the college, Daniel Pullin, introducing the event and saying a few words about the situation and its handling by President Boren (when he mentioned the “Real Sooners are not…” part, though, I noted a reaction from a group of Native American students present, which would become more apparent later). He introduced the group to follow him: the recently formed “Unheard,” a group of black students whose efforts to promote a more diverse student body had begun to be recognized months prior. Their numbers included Brittany Jackson, who called for a more diverse faculty and better recruitment/retention of diverse students, sentiments echoed later by other professors and students.

Unheard passed the microphones to the next speakers, a group of Native American students. Here it became clear what the raucous was about the dean’s speech. “Let’s talk about real racist chants,” they said. The phrase “Boomer Sooner” refers of course to the land run, and the driving out of Native Americans from Oklahoman lands. They pointed out that “We’re not others,” referring to indigenous peoples who seem even more overlooked than almost any other group. “We want to be included as well” by adding “red” to the skin color spectrum.

 

But I noticed that, as they spoke, the bells on the Union tower began to play. And the tune that rang out was “Boomer Sooner.” Was this irony? Or some kind of fate? In any case, it drove the point home: These terms are so deeply ingrained in our school’s culture that to replace them would be to entirely uproot the historical and traditional framework of our school. To do so would be to alienate alumni, erase OU’s established name, and reject the “Sooner State” as supporter and patron. Not to mention lost funding. And yet, this is what was later referred to as a sort of “Micro-aggression.” It seems innocent, and is not used with the intent to harm, but nevertheless brings memories of still unhealed wounds, namely the Trail of Tears and subsequent Oklahoma Land Run. Of course, this is just the surface of a much deeper problem. They went on to discuss “pedagogy” and use of language as “violence on students” of Native American descent and on the ideas of Native Americans among others, such as in recreations of the Land Run.

 

Many other topics and angles were covered in the various statements by the many diverse students, workers, professors, and other individuals at the event, but I chose to focus on the Native American aspect because it really struck me, from being in a position completely unaware of the problem, to being immersed in its real effects.

 

United World Night

One thing I’ve noticed about cultural and religious events on campus is that some seem to exemplify the best they have to offer, and perhaps hide the rest. Now, I can’t say whether this is due to a lack of knowledge about all of the culture’s aspects by unfamiliar hosts or a nostalgia for the best of life wherever the culture hails from, or very possibly something else, but there is something lost in this lack of authenticity.

 

This was not the case at the United World College Culture Night. On Monday the 6th of April, 2015, at 8:00 pm, students from all over the world gathered in the Meacham Auditorium, many of whom had been brought to OU by the Davis scholarship, and others (including myself) who had the pleasure of being their friends and colleagues. Participants performed songs and dances, read poems, dressed in traditional fashion, and otherwise gave a portrait of the variety brought together in an atmosphere of sincerity and inclusiveness.

 

In fact, I had the privilege of performing with a few others a bit of my own culture thanks to the geniality of those associated with UWC and the event, and it was a part that was less the “best of” as it was an exaggerated poke at a common American trope. A Balkan dance told the story of an unfaithful husband, a vigorous poem described troubles overcome in Africa through mythical analogy, a South American video voiced a struggling but ardent and powerful people, and a North American folksong painted the picture of a lazy Hobo’s dream-world.

 

They showed the best of a resilient and adaptable humanity: the ability to laugh at ourselves one moment and in the next empower those all around us. It was a real show of the universality and integrated quality of all the cultures coming together, a sketch of true humanity.

OU Cousins

This is a little snippet from my first experience with the International-American student pairing program, OU Cousins…

 

I’ll admit that going into the OU Cousins program was a little scary. Being paired right off the bat with someone I’d had no prior experience with and having then to be that person’s “friend” for the rest of the semester?

At first I thought this sounded like it could never work. This sounded like, though I had half-willingly signed up for the program (being part of the deal when I applied to be a Global Engagement Fellow), it was the kind of mandatory-fun thing that was just poorly designed enough to not only be incredibly awkward but also end up being just the wrong pair-up, so the two of us would spend a semester seeing each other once a month for a semi-formal coffee outing.

Then there was the pressure of actually finding someone, and then being likable and charismatic enough for them to want to be your friend, because there apparently were never enough International Students to go around. Sound ridiculous? Stressful?

My initial reaction before entering Jim Thorpe multi cultural center, the building where the “Meeting Party” was to be held stood, at first. It was awkward and a little scary as well; being herded into lines and told to talk with this person or that for a minute, then that for another, and then oh! You and I’ll talk about our favorite kind of music…

Apparently it worked, though. It’s quite unfair of me to bash on the process and the people who set it up when the whole event turned out to be a success. In fact there were more International students than there were Americans! A lot of undue worry, if you ask me. But the thing I got most out of it was not, in fact, from the random and often unintelligible instructions from the obscenely loud speaker system. Nearing the end of the session, I ended up speaking with two people at length, one of whom I’d gotten to meet back up with from the beginning of the event during the opening. They both happened to be from Germany, in the same town, and we decided to become cousins. We were in fact the last group at the event and had to be separated when it came to being signed up, then shooed out of the room. Impressively enough, we are good friends today!

It was a pleasant surprise to find that, if you just let yourself go freely, you’ll find both your way around and your group of interest.

Trees

I found this walking through Couch Center in one of the RA’s windows today:

 

IMG_1568[1]

 

 

I haven’t figured out how to turn the picture, so if you can’t read it, it says:

 

“A civilization flourishes when its people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”

~Greek Proverb

 

What trees are we planting, and what is their purpose? I think what the poster says really has a lot behind it. Do we do things, without asking for rewards? or does everything we do serve our own needs and wants? In order to “flourish,” the former should be to some extent true.

 

Now, that’s not to say that not everything we do has a purpose. It may be that every single thing a person does is meticulous and calculated, or driven by some force that is decided or maybe external. But maybe that purpose doesn’t fill our particular needs, or maybe the “shade” it provides is not for us, or even anyone we know or anyone we will ever know, or maybe it will never help another human being. But it has that potential.

 

Maybe it’s like recycling a note card that I’ve found lost in a drawer, years old, or picking up a stray piece of a wrapper, or turning off the light in my room during the day. Or maybe it’s like writing a note of encouragement on a chalkboard in an empty classroom. Chances are, the act won’t make the slightest difference in the life of one person or many. The world might move  on, no better, no worse.

 

But it might be better, and it couldn’t be worse. That’s the point. If we make a little bit of an effort to build something that might help in the future, we’re all better off.