In the last several years — for a multitude of different reasons — many prestigious education institutions and organizations have made diversity a higher priority on their to-do list. This isn’t something these institutions should receive too much praise for, considering their role in the lack of diversity in the first place. However, the effort is still respectable. These universities — which have historically been a medium of separation between white people and people of color — are now trying to reverse that reputation and the societal inequities that have resulted from it. It almost gives the impression that a new era of equality is amongst us.
Though the future for the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities in higher education seems bright, elements of the past still rear their heads. There have been times in which I have walked into environments that were relatively diverse, yet I still saw the same segregation that I was told disintegrated with the Civil Rights Movement. I have been in spaces that have claimed to value the experiences of different types of people and have still encountered people who were not willing to consider ideas that strayed from their own accepted narrative. Even in classes that spend time focusing on aspects of the Black experience, my perspective as a Black woman has still been devalued by people who have never walked a day in my skin. Me being able to walk through the door did not guarantee my ability to get through to the people sitting on the other side of them.
This is where the problem lies. We’ve always seen diversity in terms of numbers — specifically, the percentage of each racial group in the student body. What we’ve failed to realize though, is that numbers say nothing about the experience. One can be in a place that is diverse and still not receives the benefits of being around people with different backgrounds and perspectives. This is, quite frankly, why diversity will never be enough. Another key process must be incorporated — integration.
Integration is more than just allowing people of color to occupy white spaces. It is also inviting our cultures and our opinions to have a seat at the table. Integration is a mixture — of what you know and what you don’t. It is supposed to combine — or integrate — what people who look like you have to offer, as well as the offerings of everyone else who doesn’t. Having a healthy ratio of every race and ethnicity doesn’t cut it.
So far, in this current progression towards equal access, we’ve turned equality into a numbers game. But sometimes, that game tends to play us.