Emerson#039;s actions: not affirmed

by Beacon Staff • April 8, 2009

Like a good number of students at Emerson, I am a white male from Connecticut-just like my father, his father, and my mother's father. But my father's mother is one-quarter Native American. Which makes me, what, one-thirty-second Native American?

But that, according to relatively new Emerson standards, is not enough to make me ethnically diverse, even if I managed to do the math right. I am, it seems, just another white boy in the WLP department. Emerson has enough of me; under the Sept. 2008 Strategic Plan for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, it is not me the administration wants to attract to the school.

What this plan illustrates, exactly, is what many students have expressed in the past. "Diversity" is a word thrown around by the administration but never adds up to mean something tangible for the student body. "Diversity at Emerson," especially in the light of the denied tenures of House and Desir, continues to be a joke.

The plan itself, though lofty in its goals, is also laughable due to its lack of a plan. Under its goal of increasing the number of multicultural students, the plan is simply to "Increase by two percentage points the number of underrepresented students in the freshman class over Fall 2008." What that means and, perhaps more importantly, how that can be achieved, is not explained anywhere in the report, aside from a realignment of recruitment resources.

But while the recruitment might be leaning in that direction, recruitment strategies do nothing to change the look of the student body. One of the larger factors in deciding which college to attend is affordability. Emerson's notoriously poor financial aid program, coupled with the unfortunate nature of socioeconomic status being tied to race in this country, makes for a student population of white, upper-middle class students.

What's particularly interesting in the document is the phrase "underrepresented students." What exactly does that mean? How is a student represented? And what are these students-or any student-representing? Are they supposed to embody every member of their race? And who are they representing whatever it is they're representing to? Each other? It doesn't make any sense.

Why didn't they just say something to the affect of "We're looking around campus, and we don't see enough black students. There are far too many white males from Connecticut." And why not? All the graphs say it already. The percentage points are right there, ready and waiting to be shoved in our faces.

But of course they couldn't say it like that; it would be far too racist (my apologies, Emerson). And if there is one thing a majority of people-including (especially?) myself, as I write this-are afraid of, it is being racist.

So instead the administration continues to tiptoe around the issue, issuing diversity plans and crossing their fingers that they'll be able to admit a larger number of Hispanic freshmen next year or that a qualified Asian professor will apply to join the VMA department.

Crossing one's fingers does nothing. Planning to raise percentage points does nothing. Hell, complaining about doing nothing in a school paper does nothing.

If the college were serious about changing the look of the campus, they would step up and do something about the financial aid catastrophe. The surest way to change the student body is to make certain that every student who deserves to be here can afford to be here.

So this is not a plea for more diversity or maintaining the status quo. This is not a complaint directed at the admissions department. This is one student wondering why everyone's still talking about it, why sensible measures have not been taken already.

This is one student wondering why the college bothers to measure diversity, an unquantifiable resource. Why is there a personal background section on the application? This is supposed to be a place of learning, not a place where everyone deserves to be called "special." Once admitted, everyone is on a level playing field. But we deserve a fair opening pitch.

I don't care if you're an Asian woman from Washington or a black man from Texas or a white boy from Connecticut, if you can do the work you can do the work. Putting a label on yourself, to be categorized so you can fit into the administration's pie chart, does nothing to enhance the school's "diversity." We're here to learn. The rest of it doesn't matter.

iDoug Paul Case is a sophomore writing, literature and publishing major and a staff writer for/i The Beacon.