Can discussion about Diversity in schools replace a statistically diverse campus?
From 2009 to 2013 I attended an LVUSD school, Agoura High School, which lied just outside of the LAUSD boundaries. In my four years there I met people of different races, sexual orientations, and many who spoke different languages. During my experience I considered the campus to be well-diversified, however, I belonged to the largest demographic at the school. Agoura High is made up of 21% minority students, 1% english learners and 78% white students. Amidst the reality that I was in a potentially segregated campus I cannot help but think of all the teachers who fought for the voices of each student. Whether it was LGBT clubs on campus, students with low income families or students with disabilities, the parents and faculty were highly engaged in the diversity of the campus. My experience in a school which didn’t contain high numbers of diversity, but valued it above all else, led me to ask, can education, discussion, and respect of diversity ever replace a statistically diverse campus? Although someone who looks at the statistics and demographics of Agoura High school might suggest that racism is at play in the sorounding neighborhood or within the school itself, my experience there leads me to beleive that although there was not ideal diversity in numbers the fact that diversity was valued and encouraged outweighs the statistical data.
In my life I am used to seeing diversity in schools as an integration of ethnicities, view points, life experience and languages that are different. However, in the world I lived in growing up, different meant different than me. I thought my ethnicity, language, and world view were the base point by which all other people who differed were added. I was accustomed to thinking I wasn’t diverse, but in fact I was the normal and all the different people were the ones creating diversity. As a white, straight, english speaking, female student I looked around Agoura High School and saw hundereds of classmates who all shared those characteristics and so I never considered that I had anthing to add to a discussion on diversity. When asked why their wasnt more discussion on assumptions about white people or related topics, Natasha Capretta, a physical-ed. teacher at Agoura stated, “I think they (white students) could have if they wanted to but it just happened that minority students were more passionate and more eager to share.”
Each year that I returned to high school there was more discussion about diversity at our school, more education about tolerance, and more attraction to on-campus activities and clubs that highlighted the minority students. Seeing the attention was focused on diversity, integration, inclusion, collaboration, and respect, I gradually developed the idea that my campus was diverse, after all, the students who were different than me were given the largest platform and loudest voice to say what they believed needed to be heard. Hengameh Kamali, a middle eastern student who attended Agoura said, “white kids at Agoura didn’t have much to complain about, they had eachother to identify and talk with. Having a club or a discussion was the only way Middle Eastern or Indian kids could ever feel understood by more than 3 people at school.”
When I came to California State University Northridge there was a drastic change in the student populous. I went from a school where I identified with more than three quarters of the students to one where I was part of a minority on a campus with less than 30% white students. This switch altered my understanding of education on diversity versus the reality of diversity. At my high school I was in a system similar to what journalist Nikole-Hannah Jones calls, “carefully curated integration”, the idea that some schools believe that students should be exposed to poor minorities, but not too many. While my school would have never turned away minorities for the sake of maintaining the white majority it did actively create a world where someone’s “voice” was the majority’s to give and any platform created was because the majority permitted it. It was assumed at both my high school as well as my college campus that white, straight, english speaking individuals owned the “voice” by default and didn’t need to be given a platform. Any white club or specifically white cause would have been considered racist, pro-segregation, or white supremacist. So I went from a high school where I was apart of the majority to a University where I was treated like I was part of the majority without actually being apart of it.
While in High School I would have disagreed that racism is engrained in the deepest part of a person preventing true integration and diversity in campuses, after attending CSUN, I would have to agree. I experienced a college campus in which white topics were never given attention accept to deem oppressive or prejudice. I was lumped into a demographic who didn’t need to be heard because it already had its opportunity to be heard in history or believed to be a race who already owns the loudest microphone. At Agoura High I was considered to be someone who had the responsibility of acceptance and giving people the opportunity to be heard and then at CSUN I no longer had the authority as a majority to give people a forum but was still expected to stay silent.
While I am not personally subject to physical harm or poor facilities there is something to be said about white prejudice. In politics, in classrooms, and amongst colleagues there is a concerted effort to make sure people of non-white races, or non-english speaking people receive an equal opportunity to succeed and live out their full potential. While this is respectable and fully cohesive with our countries constitution there are times when the effort of equality turns into giving one group priority over another. There are students who didn’t get into a college because they were not the desired ethnicity, there are others who have been turned down jobs or been treated differently because of their demographic, and some of these people are, in fact, white. While other ethnicities have seen set backs equally demeaning, its important to remember that no matter what the reason may be, all ethnicities have in one way or another seen oppression and opposition. Consequently, all ethnicities, including white, should be given an opportunity to express concerns and fight for equality.
Through my time at Agoura I came to see that given a platform, people had pretty important and interesting things to say. If they were just given the opportunity they could show me the world through a lens I had never seen before. At CSUN I learned their opportunity was not mine to give, however, I, along with other students, would like to be given the opportunity to share my personal lens without prejudice, just like any other student or teacher. Only when all voices are given this opportunity can discussion outweigh statistics, and overcompensation for one minority or another can be avoided.