Diversity conversation shrouded in problematic rhetoric

High school seniors across the world will soon decide on their next educational institution. As the incoming Geneseo class will be profiled for its grade point averages, Scholastic Assessment Test score range and male-to-female ratio, another statistic will be thrown into the mix: the percentage of “multicultural” students in the class of 2018. Of course, this statistic is important for understanding the progress made in access to higher education for nonwhite students. This statistic, on the other hand, reveals the inappropriate emphasis of “multicultural” students that continues to plague college campuses.

Beginning at college admissions, it has become a part of college culture for students, faculty and staff to “other” one other. “Multicultural” emphasizes how minority students supposedly aren’t culturally the same as, say, white students. Multiracial or multiethnic would be more fitting to refer to the diverse student body, as they refer to demographics, not schools of thought or ways of living.

Furthermore, “multicultural” groups together minorities as one, nonwhite category. This terminology positions whiteness as the standard against which all students are judged.

Take Geneseo’s Office of Multicultural Programs, for instance. While it “provides a place for students to share and discuss cross-cultural experiences and to interpret those experiences,” according to its website, it innately creates an “other” environment among ALANA students, or African American, Latino/a, Asian American and Native American. ALANA students are not one racial group; they are not even four. Placing Asian Americans under one umbrella is generalizing, too.

At least Geneseo isn’t alone, though. “Multicultural” has become a buzzword among colleges nationwide; it’s everywhere. This is a common statistic for colleges to measure for its classes to the point that the percentage is a selling point for prospective students.

The same goes for diversity, another frequent buzzword. Diversity can manifest itself in different forms, but specifying what it is being applied to can give the term greater import and salience, similar to races and ethnicities.

Cultural groups and staffs should be at the forefront of promoting positive and appropriate environments for diverse students – whether they are perceived different due to their ethnicity, racially or sexuality.

Geneseo’s cultural groups, for instance, do a good job at providing numerous opportunities for students to learn about other populations and their traditions. Take the annual dinners, where large groups of students gather and celebrate certain cultures throughout the academic year.

This is how diversity should be emphasized and encouraged in higher education institutions, not through a misused word that describes a good portion of their student bodies.