Students and faculty were challenged to think about student inequality in the lecture “Celebrating Diversity: Creating a More Equitable Environment for Learning,” held in the Physics Building on Wednesday, April 4. The purpose of the lecture, presented by professor of integrative studies Paul Gorski of George Mason University, was to illustrate the problem of how college students are often treated differently based on their race, religion, appearance and socioeconomic status.
Gorski is the founder of EdChange, an organization that visits colleges and universities throughout the country to collect data through interviews, focus groups and surveys of students in minority and disenfranchised groups. Gorski said that he was not here to assess the College in this way, but to present the problem and make the campus community aware.
“Although we find things to different degrees, we basically find the same things on every campus — white people tend to think that there is a lot less racial inequity on campus than people of color, on average. Men tend to think there’s a lot less gender inequity. Heterosexual people generally don’t see what the issue is around sexual orientation,” Gorski said. “We can talk about the same thing across class, across religion, across any other dynamic.”
Gorski’s mission is to challenge colleges and universities to stop spending too many resources on superficial “international food fairs” and “diversity fashion shows,” instead of concentrating on eliminating racist, sexist and socioeconomic prejudices on campus.
“I think personally, for me, it would be really cool if the campus community stopped being ‘color blind,’” said sophomore biology major Sarah Cassim during the lecture.
“It would be good if the campus community acknowledged the fact that I am different from them, and they would make a step to learn about our differences,” Cassim said.
Gorski was clear about the aims behind his beliefs.
“The goal is about creating equitable and just learning environments,” Gorski said. “Dialogue is important and can address the root of inequity. But the problem is, dialogue often becomes the action, rather than what should be preparing us for the action (of resolving inequity).”
As an example, Gorski said that according to their data, professors are more likely to compliment male students on their intelligence and female students on their appearance.
“What is scary about this is that we’re not talking about a bunch of rabid sexists,” Gorski said. “We’re talking about us — we’re talking about people who have been socialized into this, who have no idea they’re doing it. If I saw that happening, would I even notice? Would it even raise a red flag for me?”
This notion of being unable to even realize when inequity is occurring, according to director of the writing program Mary Goldschmidt, is the biggest hurdle of the problem.
“(Inequity) is so deeply rooted, it’s been ingrained within us for our whole lives,” Goldschmidt said during the lecture. He was blunt about his beliefs. “I hate to be a pessimist, but isn’t it unrealistic to think that within a year, within only several years, this social inequity will be resolved?”
Cassim appreciated Goldschmidt’s perspective.
“He talked about a lot of things that I struggle to talk about,” she said. “But as he said, as a disenfranchised person, people don’t hear me. But it was very nice that somebody who was from a privileged group — you know, (Gorski) is a white protestant — was talking about issues that I deal with every single day.”
Gorski stressed that a single instructor, professor, staff member or student cannot undo big systemic inequities.
“So it’s not that everyone here needs to take up the mantle against inequality,” he said. “But the idea is asking yourself, ‘What is my sphere of influence here? Here’s what I have control of, here’s what I do not have control of. Under what I have control of, how can I make sure that I’m doing the most in that context to create an equitable space?’”