True diversity requires more than empty gestures

by Beacon Staff • September 8, 2011

Emerson’s granting of tenure to Prof. Roger House

Our take: 

It’s about damn time—but the college needs to better promote diversity dialogue on campus.

We were all heartened when M. Lee Pelton was appointed as Emerson’s first black president, and Professor House’s tenure should be the first of many promotions for minority instructors. Hopefully, the decision will energize a meaningful conversation about diversity that has sometimes lacked the nuance and sophistication it deserves—despite good intentions and much to gain.

Last semester we rolled our eyes at diversity food week, as the dining hall served dumplings, burritos, and fried chicken, ostensibly to represent minority cuisines. Such superficial strategies from the office of diversity and inclusion have lacked substance; They have been silly, reductive, and arguably offensive.

In recent semesters, however, the office’s Campus Conversations on Race have taken the lead in raising the profile of those discussions—and were entirely led by students. This shows that administration should look no further than student efforts to see that the Emerson community desperately wants meaningful demonstrations of diversity.

Student group EBONI welcomed Angela Davis, a controversial and important black feminist to our campus last semester. The same organization launched a “Definition: Black” poster campaign that became the topic of heated dialogue on campus.

At the Beacon, we routinely hear from students who want to engage in serious conversations about race and diversity—their challenges, benefits, and complexities. We want heated discussions. We want to comprehensively explore what “diversity” means.

With the news of Gwendolyn Bates’ retirement from her position as associate vice president for diversity and inclusion, the college has the chance to follow the lead of its students in appointing someone whose efforts are on par with our level of discourse. Emphasizing diversity needs to be evident in extra-and co-curricular programming that is not kitschy or condescending.

Most importantly, it needs to be evident in the classroom.

Just last year, an independent panel found that “African American [professors] are the last minority group still caught in a caste-like position where their intellectual worthiness and contributions are often implicitly undervalued and their career advancement thereby slowed.” Not only does such a scathing review reflect poorly on the reputation of the college, but it also puts Emerson’s student body at a severe disadvantage.

With a 21-percent jump in minority applicants for the class of 2015, future classes of Emersonians deserve to see their varied backgrounds reflected in the educators who teach them, and in the initiatives of the administration.

Our increasingly heterogeneous student body needs to be led by full-time, promoted, and even tenured faculty members of color. We deserve guest speakers who reflect the level of diversity the college aspires to in its stated objectives. Strong, diverse voices on campus need to be emboldened; We deserve better than Aramark fried chicken.