Why Kenyon Should Require Students to Engage With Diversity

Recently, many students have been raising questions about how much political diversity exists in campus discourse and what should be done to encourage the voicing of marginalized opinions. It is imperative that we not only tolerate but also foster the expression of diverse perspectives on all topics—from issues as far-reaching as systematic gender inequality to local ones like Kenyon’s gun-carrying restrictions. Only then will we create positive change that takes into consideration the needs and concerns of all members within a community, and not just a select few. This seems like a simple enough plan: create open, respectful dialogue and then take action to fix what’s wrong. However, the reality is much more complicated.

In a political climate dominated by hateful rhetoric and high emotionality, many people are quick to call each other names while completely ignoring what the other person has to say. On campus, I have noticed this divisive thinking growing stronger as people come out with opinions that go against the liberal ideology prevalent at Kenyon. Most people on campus would agree that it is good to include a variety of political opinions in debates, and thus they accept conservative viewpoints.What many take issue with, however, are the opinions that are based upon prejudices against traditionally marginalized groups such as women, African Americans, people who identify as LGBTQIA+, and others. It is hard for people from these backgrounds to listen to any political ideas that are predicated upon false assumptions and information about their gender, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and other parts of their identity. This makes them react angrily, as they see that their fellow students are contributing to the discrimination they face daily. Seeing this anger, people who hold these prejudiced views feel that their sense of self is being attacked rather than seeking to understand why their opinions might be insensitive. This creates an endless cycle of impassioned Facebook wars that solve nothing and aggravate the situation more.

So, how do we solve this? How do we create a space that truly values all perspectives and will inform people about new viewpoints without attacking them for their beliefs? Luckily, the solution is something valued by everyone on this campus—education.

A number of colleges in the United States, including the Ohio State University and the University of Pennsylvania, require students to take a course concerning Diversity in the U.S. According to the Ohio State University’s bachelor of arts requirements, the goal of this requirement is “to foster an understanding of the pluralistic nature of institutions, society, and culture in the United States in order to help you become an educated, productive and principled citizen.” In short, it helps students have the conversations many people on this campus are calling for. The requirement would not be hard to fulfill, as many classes at Kenyon already seek to to expand students’ perceptions of those who are different from themselves, and our diversification requirements foster the exploration of social studies. This additional requirement would only create more opportunities for people to get perspectives they might not otherwise encounter. Even if Kenyon decided against implementing this requirement into the general curriculum, the administration could require all students to attend a diversity presentation and discussion similar to the one given to freshmen during orientation.I believe that we can use education to create healthy environments for discourse not commonly found in general campus life. We have the tools, facilities and, most importantly, people wanting to engage in tough conversations that are required to do it. If we are really serious about changing our politics and society, it needs to start with us, and, what better place to begin constructive dialogue than within our very own classrooms?

 

Image Credit: Annmarie Morrison, Kenyon College, 1