Why conversations about diversity are necessary

Diversity is something that has been important to me for a long time. Through so many conversations with friends, my worldview has grown in so many ways and continues to grow daily. My life has been made better because of diversity.

One particular quote from Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens article “From safe spaces to brave spaces” really stuck out to me as I think about diversity.

Was it the activity that had made our students unsafe, or did this sense of danger originate somewhere else?

This sentiment really supports their idea that safe spaces are impossible when talking about diversity of any kind in academic settings or really any setting. The concepts of privilege and inequality are necessarily uncomfortable, and to discuss them and bring some sort of resolution, we will have to make ourselves uncomfortable.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. It is in Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. It is a letter written to fellow clergymen imploring them to support his movement and when I read it, I feel like it was written to me. There is one part in particular that I find incredibly convicting. Here, he calls out the “white moderate.” I’d like to share it here (emphasis mine):

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

This letter is incredibly relevant to the issues that remain present today. There exist in this country so many injustices that are hidden under the surface. We need to bring these issues to the surface. They will make us uncomfortable. We will likely feel bad or guilty or hopeless at times. Whether we talk about them or not, they persist.

In the engineering classes I’ve taken and those I hope to teach in the near future, most of the students are heterosexual white males, and therefore ours is the loudest opinion. That means that people of color and women already hear our opinion whether they want to or not. It is absolutely essential to the human experience to be aware of the way that others experience it. Therefore, we, as members of the majority, have to take special care to hear other worldviews.

We cannot discredit another human’s experience because it’s different than ours. When people of color are insisting that there is a race issue in this country, we cannot say that there isn’t one. When females in engineering say that the culture in the classroom is too hostile, we cannot say that they are just being too sensitive. We must learn from others. We must grow as people. That is why diversity matters.