White People Need Diversity, Too - Higher Education
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White People Need Diversity, Too

by Danielle L. Tate

At my university and many others, “diversity” is like Frank’s RedHot sauce, “they put that sh*t on everything!”

It is drenched on mission and value statements. It is mixed into committees and task forces established to examine the ills facing Black and Brown students on campus. A few dabs are added to million-dollar projects to assess the campus climate. Institutions even create specialty sauces in the form of programs and scholarships specifically designed to recruit and retain “students of color.”

Human Resources likes to sprinkle a little bit into their search pools in search of “qualified” Black and Brown candidates. A few faces of color are splattered on the website occasionally to showcase what a “diverse” campus we are.

I love Frank’s RedHot sauce as much as the next person, but just like “diversity,” it is usually associated with “people of color.”

Many campuses approach issues of diversity and equity like it is something just for people of color. Institutions still operate under the mentality that simply increasing the number of “diverse” students, faculty and staff on campus, providing them a multicultural center and offering a few programs will effectively meet the goal of providing an inclusive and diverse campus. That is like taking a horribly bland dish, putting hot sauce on it and expecting it to be a five-star meal. It may make it edible for the moment, but it won’t change the fact that the dish is lacking the necessary ingredients throughout to make it delicious. Instead of changing the ingredients of the dish, we just keep adding hot sauce to the taste. Then it becomes the hot sauce’s job to make the dish better, rather than the cook’s.

In similar fashion, the burden lies on “people of color” or those “few good White people” to be the champions of diversity.  We occupy the positions with “diversity” in the title or job description, teach the classes, attend the programs, mentor the students and basically are responsible for developing our own inclusive environment.

In the era of Trump, the rise of White nationalism and anti-everything-not-White, it is even more vital that diversity is not added as an afterthought, but deeply ingrained into the policies and actions of every area within the university. Have you ever marinated something with hot sauce?  By letting it sit and soak, the hot sauce is saturated into every element of the dish. Then, when the heat hits it, it continues to be cooked into the dish, even when you no longer see it. But you taste it and smell its aroma. That is how diversity should be. It needs to be included at the beginning, rooted and inundated into every aspect of the campus so that all student, faculty and staff (not just those interested in the subject) are challenged by the sensitive nature of dealing with diversity.

As I see it, White faculty, staff and students can pull their little bottle of diversity out of their bag like Beyoncé and sprinkle it on when it works in their advantage. Then they put it back and go on their merry way. Some may argue that I am being a little hard on institutions in their regards to diversity, so I  put together my top nine signs that diversity is not a genuinely institutionalized value:

  1. New faculty/staff orientation spends more time on training how not to walk under a ladder than engaging issues of diversity.
  2. The schools’ most-prized programs, such as Honors College, remain predominantly White.
  3. Black and Brown individuals continue to be absent in senior-level positions, except for those with diversity in the title.
  4. The majority of White students do not know where the multicultural center is, let alone attended a program at it.
  5. Most faculty and staff of color are located in areas that focus on diversity.
  6. The majority of diversity programs are only attended by individuals from diverse populations.
  7. Diversity offices are expected to handle all matters related to people of color regardless of the situation.
  8. Significant national or global events affecting communities of color can occur without any acknowledgement by White students, faculty or staff.
  9. Students are not required to take a class focusing on diversity, social justice or global issues.

It is time that we stop dashing diversity here and there and start to recognize how all students, faculty and staff need to be presented with the concepts related to diversity. White people need hot sauce, too!

Danielle L. Tate is the assistant director of Special Programs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and is a doctoral student.

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