Emerson needs genuine diversity

by Beacon Staff • April 9, 2008

Diversity on Campus

Our View:

The college must broaden its conception of student diversity,Tomorrow, Emerson's Center for Diversity will host the Annual Forum on the State of Diversity. Beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting all day, events include speakers, a dance contest and the Human Race Machine, which allows students to see what they would look like as a member of a different race.

At a school like Emerson-which sorely lacks diversity-such events are a welcome opportunity for self-analysis. However, while the administration appears committed to the consideration of difference, it doesn't seem to be cultivating it in any genuine sense. The Forum is an intelligent way to expose students to "difference," but the college's commitment is narrow in scope and often hollow in nature.

Brook Runyan, a junior TV/video major, told The Beacon this week, "Students have been talking about the lack of diversity at Emerson for years. It is Emerson that needs to change." This is a common and entirely legitimate viewpoint.

It must be said that diversity means more than just ethnic and racial variation, even if those are the day's most politically-correct causes. Neither intellectual nor economic diversity appear on the administration's priorities.

This community marches in depressingly tight lockstep on many issues, if not most. Naturally, a school like our own is bound to draw a certain sort of individual, but it wouldn't hurt if the admissions office attempted to recruit kids whose ideal day is something other than a Barack Obama rally followed by a trip to the "coolest" sneaker shop, topped off by a viewing at the cinema at Kendall Square.

Admittedly, securing intellectual diversity can be difficult, but creating greater variation in terms of economic status is much easier. It's hard to judge a person's sympathies, but the admissions office can surely evaluate an applicant's financial situation.

Regardless of how we look or think, what's definite is that Lions are overwhelmingly upper-middle class. The sheer cost of Emerson, paired with its embarrassingly inadequate financial aid program, guarantee that the majority of students will come from well-off families.

A focus on admitting more ethnically and racially (and even intellectually) diverse students is less meaningful if they are all being taken from the same social pool.

In 2004, Harvard Univeristy announced that families who make $40,000 or less would not be expected to contribute to the cost of attending the college. Last year, the college expanded this initiative to include student's whose families make less than $60,000.

While Harvard's $34.9 billion (compared to Emerson's $90 million) endowment makes such programs easier to achieve, Emerson's administration needs to think outside the box in order to reach poorer potential students.

While one of Emerson's main scholarships, the Trustees Scholarship given to Honors students, is based on academic achievement, the financial aid office should award lower-income students who are not a part of the Honors program, but manage to maintain a high GPA or exhibit strong extracurricular successes.

Whether it's intellectual or economic diversity, it's time for Emerson to reach out beyond the usual target groups. If we strive for real difference, then real efforts must be taken to complete our goals.