Diversity at Emerson is more than skin deep

by Beacon Staff • November 29, 2006

Our view: It should be applauded, but let's not forget the lack of diversity in other areas.

We've all heard the joke: in a class, a student or professor will mention Emerson's students of color and inevitably someone will respond, "Yeah, all seven of them," or something of the like.,At issue: Emerson's increase in multicultural students

Our view: It should be applauded, but let's not forget the lack of diversity in other areas.

We've all heard the joke: in a class, a student or professor will mention Emerson's students of color and inevitably someone will respond, "Yeah, all seven of them," or something of the like.

Although good-natured, these observations are rooted in an unfortunate truth: Emerson's student body is simply not very diverse.

According to the most recent Princeton Review data, the campus is 77 percent Caucasian, with black, Asian and Hispanic students collectively making up a mere 11 percent of the student population.

This is far from the national average. The most recent U.S. Census report indicates that blacks and Hispanics each account for more than 12 percent of America's population.

The news that this year's freshman class is the most diverse in years, with 16.1 percent multicultural students, is promising. The number is still too low, but it does show that the administration is committed to the goal of a more colorful Emerson campus.

However, in this self-congratulatory atmosphere, let's not forget that diversity is not solely about race.

There are other aspects, much more difficult to measure than skin color, in which our institution is lacking.

As any Reagan-admiring conservative at Emerson will tell you, there is a distinct lack of political diversity in the classroom. The professors and students are overwhelmingly liberal in their views.

The argument is rightly made that conservative students are free to express themselves in an open atmosphere and thus it shouldn't matter that they're so outnumbered. But then the same could be said of students of color. A certain level of discomfort is still felt by both groups.

Another area of diversity not often discussed at Emerson is economics. Due to the high cost of tuition and the college's lacking financial aid program, a majority of Emersonians come from families that are well-off, to say the least.

Dr. William Smith, from our own Center for Diversity, deserves credit for raising this issue publicly.

In addition to the obvious ethical reasons for admitting more students who don't get such a fair shake in life, it would also be an asset to the student body to accept an overall more diverse group of students.

When you interact mainly with peers from the same socioeconomic background as you, it becomes easy to forget that there are those who struggle and that, for some among us, attending college was not expected but rather a great achievement.

In the end, this is the benefit of diversity. It's good public relations for Emerson College, sure. More importantly, it brings to our classrooms and dorm floors people with whom we might not normally interact. Whether it's students of a different race, with dissimilar political ideologies or from lower-class families, diversity goes way beyond statistics and percentages.

The administration is on the right track.

Let's be open enough to dig deeper and remember that there are, indeed, a diversity of meanings to the word "different."