New Diversity Discussion Hopes to Start Conversation
At the beginning of the school year, many students involved in the intercultural community on campus decided to come together to raise awareness of diversity issues by forming an intimate lunchtime discussion group. This small group created these free-form biweekly discussions, held in the Multi-Ethnic Center for Cultural Awareness (MECCA) interest house to help work towards changing the campus stereotype of talking about diversity only to say that we don’t have it.
Junior Thabo Liphoto had the idea last year to start an open group to discuss diversity and cultural issues called Going Beyond PC (Politically Correct).
“It was a dream that I had for a really long time,” said Liphoto. “I went to a really diverse high school, and the more I talked to people with diverse cultures and nationalities, the more I learned and appreciated them and their cultures. When I came to Whitman I found that didn’t exist.”
Though most people associated with the college would say Whitman is a progressive place, talking about diversity and differing cultures and backgrounds can be challenging. Sophomore Aanand Sharma, a resident of MECCA and another founding member of the group, hopes that Going Beyond PC can be a place to start these conversations. Though many students focus on a lack of racial diversity, religious diversity is also an area that some students feel is lacking.
“It’s hard to have discussions about stuff like this. It’s really important to talk about what makes you different,” said Sharma. “When I came last year, I realized in my section that people avoided talking about their faith. They could talk about the religion itself, but never how it affected them. There was a lack of conversation.”
Going Beyond PC hopes to address and amend the lack of discussion in all areas of diversity. Though the group consists only of presidents from intercultural clubs, including leaders from the Beyond Borders Club, Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE), and Club Latino, among others, it plans to expand to other students.
“We got the IC presidents together to start it, but we want other students to join in soon,” said Liphoto. The group is excited to have a wider audience, but there are concerns about the types of people who may be enthusiastic about the events.
“One of the concerns that we have is that only the people who already have a lot of knowledge about these things will show up, while the people who might need to come, or the people who are afraid to talk about these things, won’t come,” said Sharma.
Though there is a clear mindset at Whitman of refusing to acknowledge diversity, students who started the group know conversations like the one they are starting will be accepted. Many backgrounds and cultures are represented, and they hope to expand on this.
“I think we are a very open campus, but sometimes we’re too accepting in that we don’t give enough thought to things,” said Sharma. “People who come from different perspectives make for better discussions.”
Going Beyond PC hopes to enact its name by bypassing the culture of correctness at Whitman.
“Given the Whitman context, it’s hard to talk about those things. Everyone tries to be so politically correct and that was hard for me,” said Liphoto.
The group had their first meeting Oct. 8, and their second was on Oct. 22. At their most recent meeting, the focus was defining a clear direction for the group by brainstorming topic ideas for their future biweekly meetings. Sophomore Mary Christensen, a co-president of the Beyond Borders Club, shared her idea for a topic that was ultimately decided would start the conversation at the next meeting.
“I think it would be interesting to discuss the differences in our high school educations and why those differences exist,” said Christensen. “We were taught different things about issues like immigration, and sharing our experiences might give perspective.”
While the group is discussing these issues now, members hope the cultural awareness and discussion will spread to campus.
“We want to get everyone talking about these things, not just our group,” said Liphoto. For now, these biweekly lunchtime meetings in MECCA are instituting a welcoming and curious environment for learning more about the cultures of students at Whitman.
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