Jose Torres: MSSC diversity talks should include political topics

There’s a new way to get one more graduation cord for Commencement: The Multicultural Student Services Center launched a program called “Diversity Dialogues” with 9 sessions through Dec. 1, promising a graduation cord for diversity to any student who attends at least eight of the sessions.

The sessions cover familiar topics for anyone who has heard about diversity on college campuses: They include things like gendered language, multiculturalism in the U.S. and unconscious bias.

The sessions are predictably progressive in nature, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who regularly pays attention to how universities’ officials talk about diversity. Students should definitely discuss these important topics, but officials have missed political and ideological topics that they could have also covered through the sessions. MSSC staff should realize that the current topics might only bring together students who already believe in the importance of these issues, rather than bring together students who have completely different political views and societal experiences.

Michael Tapscott, the director of MSSC, said he realizes that other types of diversity are important to address and plans on exploring ways to include other political and ideological topics.

“We are currently researching workshops related to political diversity,” Tapscott said in an email. “We do think we already cover aspects of this in our general conversations around socioeconomic and social justice issues.”

It’s a step in the right direction that officials want to add workshops. And hopefully staff can accomplish that before the end of this first round of programming. If leaders add some politically focused sessions, it’s likely that more students will take interest in the dialogues. Students who seek out the conversations as they are presented now probably already spend time in the MSSC and know a little – or even a lot – about the topics. Students who aren’t progressive might not attend, and that means that only parts of our student population will learn about diversity issues and be able to discuss them.

To attract students who have different political and ideological viewpoints, the MSSC could add sessions about how to talk through disagreements or how to communicate social justice to people who don’t know much about it. Some of the scheduled programs – like sessions on multiculturalism and then a separate one on cross-cultural communication – are slightly redundant, so officials could replace them with political conversations.

A more inclusive campus should value people of all stripes and walks of life, especially when it feels like political discourse has decayed over the past year throughout a contentious U.S. presidential election. In our current social and political environment, social justice is an entirely politicized subject, and it’s impossible to have any kind of real discussion on what diversity and multiculturalism mean while ignoring society’s political fault lines.

Conservative students might look at the current discussions with some skepticism: Religious conservatives may feel that their beliefs won’t be accepted, and other conservative students might not believe in social justice movements at all. Regardless of whether those opinions have any merit, there are likely students on campus who feel that way.

If officials see all forms of diversity as equally important and want to get more conservative or apolitical people to understand diversity, they must communicate that in a way that doesn’t come off as condescending or hostile. It seems like students and officials have struggled to do that, so far: Some conservative student organizations have expressed doubt that progressive students and staff would tolerate conservative viewpoints.

That’s the disconnect that the MSSC would do well to bridge. If one side sees these issues as absolutely necessary to providing an inclusive society to students, and the other side sees it as nothing but a fringe political agenda, there’s no way to teach either side about the other.

The MSSC can facilitate and foster conversation on the things that it, as an organization, cares about. But I challenge officials and “diversity cord” supporters to realize that a society where people of all ethnicities, races, religions and sexual orientations have the same political world view might seem diverse, but is probably missing input from a portion of the student population.

Jose Torres, a freshman double-majoring in political science and history, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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