The Huffington Post: Diversity As An Enriching Experience

Daan Braverman, president, Nazareth College

Commentary appears on The Huffington Post

Diversity as an Enriching Experience 

This has been a troubling and terribly sad summer for so many. We witnessed innocent people murdered because of whom they chose to love. We saw people executed when the only apparent crime they committed was to be have been born with a dark skinned face. We watched police officers gunned down as they tried to perform their job of maintaining safety. We read polls indicating that racial divisions in our country are getting worse and the discord is at one of the highest levels in many years. Moreover, the conflicts over difference are seen around the globe. Indeed, this summer we again witnessed devastating violence and terror inflicted in the name of some incomprehensible and hate-filled principle. While these events are occurring, we are subjected to political rhetoric that only fuels the divisions over difference.

In his book, the Dignity of Difference, Jonathan Sacks observes: “Difference has now become part of the texture of daily life. At work, in the street and on the television screen, we are regularly confronted with people whose faith, culture, accent, skin colour and customs are unlike ours. That can be an enriching experience or a threatening one.”

Preparations for the Fall college semester are now increasing, and the events of this summer underscore that we in higher education have an obligation to ensure that our students learn to live and work across lines of difference. Many of our students come from high schools where the student body looks just like them. Indeed, a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that six decades after the Brown school desegregation decision, public schools are increasingly segregated by race and class. For many students, their college years are the first real opportunity to be presented with meaningful forms of diversity.

Higher education certainly cannot solve all the challenges facing us. Nevertheless, within our spaces, we have the ability and responsibility to develop in our students, as well as our faculty and staff, the understandings and skills needed to live in a world filled with diversity. In its recent decision upholding the University of Texas affirmative action policy, the Supreme Court explicitly noted the critical importance of a racially diverse student body in promoting cross-racial understand­ing, helping to break down stereotypes, and preparing students for an increasingly diverse work force and society.

As we at Nazareth College prepare for the Fall, we must strengthen our efforts aimed at deliberately developing academic and co-curricular programs that foster an appreciation that difference need not be a threatening experience but indeed can be the source of great enrichment.