This week’s readings have resulted in a definition of diversity that is just as diverse as the term itself. Prior to reading, I understood diversity to mean cultural differences among groups of people within a community. However, diversity is much larger in scope, and, in fact, can differ based on each person’s individual worldview (Castania 1996, 1). According to the combination of this week’s readings, a “working definition” of diversity would be those differences that set us apart—whether racial, gender, religion, age, socioeconomic status, upbringing (how, where, in what context), how we learn and our ability to do so, sexual preferences, physical differences, and more. There is an added nuance to this term, however, deriving from the significance we place on these differences (Castania 1996, 2): after all, diversity may not even be acknowledged in social settings in which members do not perceive that there are differences (although, admittedly, the diversity does still exist).
Diversity greatly effects our knowledge—both in fact and in perceived understanding. The emergence of dominant culture groups in America has led to a skewed history—one in which minorities (or “subordinate groups” (Healey 2010, 9)) have largely been ignored. This oversight has caused history to be taught in the viewpoint of high levels of social dominance orientation (Nauert 2012), which serves to perpetuate inequalities in society—in turn perpetuating discrimination and prejudice. Additionally, how individuals process information is greatly affected by their life experiences, which includes all of those elements in the definition of diversity. For this reason, teacher familiarity with student diversity is crucial in facilitating learning. Schools are failing at reaching minority students, and an achievement gap continues to exist in public schools, despite movements toward equality in the past 70+ years. Nearly a third of students in schools with high numbers of minorities, and/or high numbers of impoverished students will not graduate because they fail to make it past their first year of high school (Saravia-Shore 2008, 41). As our nation continues to diversify, these numbers may worsen if public schools do not intervene by placing a greater priority on closing the achievement gap. As Kathy Castania wrote in her report for the Cornell Migrant Program, considering and acknowledging the “historical power imbalance” that continues to pervade our nation will bring about positive change that will lead to greater equity in all aspects of society (1996, 2).
The diverse experiences, values, cultures, and physical traits of American citizens also affects their political beliefs, priorities, and participation. The divergent views on important policy considerations—such as affirmative action, transgender participation in the military, and immigration—are formed by life experiences, which are viewed in context of our differences. Dr. Joseph Healey, a scholar in the field of diversity, writes that “group membership” greatly affects choices at the voting booth because heritage and other factors shape how we view society, ourselves, and others, and what it means to be “American” (Healey 2010, 5). Therefore, the worldview of individuals shapes policy stances and priorities. For instance, while 78% of Blacks saw racism against Blacks as a widespread policy issue, only 51% of Whites saw racism as a continued problem in America (Healey 2010, 10). These perceptions and divergent views have an impact at the polls, and therefore help form the policy agenda of our nation.
Further, according to a study by Dr. Robert Putnam, there is a direct correlation between the amount of diversity within a community and civic activism—the more diverse, the less likely individuals will vote (Jonas 2007). This explains in part why the policy agenda and elected officials overwhelmingly tip in favor of White males. However, a Census Bureau report released in 2015 projects that by 2060, some major changes will take place in American society. First, only about one-third of the American population is projected to be single-race. Secondly, the Bureau anticipates that about 20% of the American population will be foreign born. These major changes, along with the estimate that 2044 will be the year that minorities exceed the current dominant White demographic (2015), will have considerable implications on the political landscape. The mobilization of White voters for a candidate running in the 2016 election on what some consider a xenophobic platform demonstrates the backlash of the core group as the dominant status begins to diminish. Programs to help bridge gaps between social groups through the development of “ally” and “empowered” identity building (Castania 1996, 3) will be crucial in developing policy agendas that more closely reflect the nation’s societal evolution.
According to this week’s readings, diversity can mean many different things. The term has been over used and mischaracterized to include people who have different views and likes in any way, including personality traits and food preferences. In order to talk about diversity, the conversation needs to be directed at specific traits. For the purpose of this class, we measure and define diversity as the demographic differences within the American population. Demographics focused on for this course include but are not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. In modern politics, it is important to understand diversity and its role in order to recognize the benefits that come out of a country that includes all minorities. With the demographics of America changing and whites no longer going to be the racial majority by 2044, more attention should be given to minorities because together they will become the majority.
Michael Jonas writes about a study that recognizes too much diversity can become a challenge. The study found that communities that have a high diversity rating typically vote less, volunteer less, give to charities less, and even trust each other less. (Jonas, 2007) this outcome was understandably surprising and many have steered away from it for fear of political correctness. However, the study has opened doors for researchers to address the challenges to diversity and be proactive on finding ways to encourage diversity and increase civic engagement. On the flip side, another stud was noted to try to explain why some very diverse places such as New York, London, Rio de Janiero, and LA were thriving with creativity and leading the financial economy. It pretty much all boils down to, “by hanging out with people different than you, you’re likely to get more insights. Diverse teams tend to be more productive.” (Jonas, 2007) With regards to politics, diversity is very important in order to understand and represent solutions to peoples’ needs that may not be obvious to everyone.