November 8th, 2019


In my last post on White Privilege I ended my piece with a quote from Trevor Noah, who in his Netflix show, Son of Patricia said, “There should be a rule in America. You can hate immigrants all you want but if you do, you don’t get to eat their food.”

That line, in its simplicity, gets to the point of the question of “why diversity”? Why is it so important that schools are hiring directors and consultants to help them diversify? Is it imperative that our education system introduce cultural differences as a way to break down barriers – a.k.a. bringing about world peace? Or do these unique attributes enkindle students’ intellectual, moral and social growth thus making them better, more interesting people? Or is it just that there’s no getting around diversity?

I’ve been watching and re-watching the Playing for Change remake of The Weight. It too, very simply demonstrates the value in diversity. The ukulele played often in Hawaii, originated in Portugal. The congo drum is Afro-Cuban. The oud is originally Persian. Maybe you prefer the original version. It is pretty great, but I prefer the richness of the latest version with the various riffs from people all over the world.

Maybe music and food aren’t your thing. You’re more of a sports fan. In an article by James C. Witte and Marissa Kiss writing for The Institute for Immigration Research, on Predicting the Outcome of the 2019 MLB All Star Games they conclude “so with this year’s game coming on July 9th, die-hard fans, inquiring minds and hopeful gamblers want to know who will win: the National League or the American League? Our answer? The team that plays the greatest percentage of foreign-born players.”

Their findings are based on statistics.

Let’s put aside the many wonderful flavors and sounds that enrich the U.S., so many brought here from other countries. There is no getting around diversity in most of America these days. According to the Migration Policy Institute as of 2017, 44.5 million immigrants resided in the U.S. 14 % of the nation’s population are not from America. These statistics are increasing annually. And it’s not only in the U.S. According to a report (Gurria, 2018) from the European Association for International Education (EAIE), one in ten children in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with 36 member countries, are foreign-born.

Instead of being frightened by these statistics can we be intrigued by the scents, the sounds, the visual effects and stimulation that those varied and colorful cultures bring us? Imagine the stories these people have to share. Think of friends who have traveled and the tales they have told. Sometimes they make us scratch our heads. Sometimes they make us laugh at their absurdity. But they mostly intrigue us and compel us to get out and see more of the world.

In an article in Diverse Magazine (Elfman, 2019) Dr. Alyssa N. Rockenbach whose project, Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) reports that “having a diverse peer group enables college students to understand and appreciate other cultures and reduces prejudice,” a.k.a. world peace. This seems obvious to me and I could never really grasp how it wasn’t obvious to everyone until, in one of my classes at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell when we first experienced diversity. Most students talked about the first time they went abroad or when a study abroad student came to their school. My first experience was the opposite. It happened when I left my home in Cambridge, MA for college in San Diego, CA. My college campus was so white. There were a few black students and two Iranians but that’s all I can recall of diversity. Not only did that help me appreciate the richness of cultures I’d grown up with, but it made me an open-minded person, excited to break down barriers of exclusion so that my friends could also know the excitement that comes with experiencing another’s culture.

That said, it isn’t obvious to everyone which I was reminded of while listening to an episode of Safe Space Radio. The podcast Can We Talk: Talking to White Kids About Race and Racism is led by two mothers, one black and the other white. The black mother explained why it was so hard to talk to white children about race. “My job is to protect you (her children) out there and the white parent’s job is to create a bubble to keep their kids safe.” If we’re not purposeful in bringing our children together are we causing more harm, actually sowing division? We need to consciously decide to break down barriers by creating a culture of diversity and not just between black and white families, but that’s a good start here in the states.

I will always love the idea of and work towards world peace, but what I really want to relay is how much richer our children’s education will be when schools consciously make an effort to diversify. That comes in the form of teachers and staff, curriculum and the students themselves. Children are born eager to learn. It’s inherent and it’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, and schools to encourage the full range of exploration that includes not only thought and intellectual stimulation but what culture brings. So why diversify? Does it matter if we do so because the world is just going that way or should we bring more intention to it in order to reap the benefits of variety in tastes, sounds and sights? Mmmm. Suddenly, I‘m craving my nana’s lasagna and some Italian opera.

Encompassing All Voices Diversity and Inclusion: a strategic issue for European universities, Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik p 5 (Gurria 2018)

Suggested Readings:
This Land is Our Land: An Immigrants Manifesto – Suketu Mehta
WHY ARE ALL THE BLACK KIDS SITTING TOGETHER IN THE CAFETERIA And Other Conversations About Race – Beverly Daniel Tatum, PHD


Kathleen Hylen, M.A. International Education Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Graduated with honors from UC, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Community Studies, focus on anti-bias. Kathleen is also a member of ACEI’s Professional Consultancy Team. Her focus is on helping institutions and organizations develop and/or bolster their diversity and inclusion strategies. acei@acei-global.org

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Filed under Education, Human Interest

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