The first word that comes to mind when I think about diversity is inclusion, making everyone feel like he/she belongs regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic background, disabilities, or sexual orientation. My understanding of diversity is people coming together regardless of their backgrounds and living, working and going to school together.
Today, diversity is viewed as being good because it exposes others to something they are not normally use to as well as having the chance to learn and grow. Along with the positive, comes the negative. People tend to stereotype and be distrustful when they do not understand something other than what looks like them. Instead, of trying to coexist, people close themselves off and continue to believe the single story of an entire ethnicity, which are the stories that are incomplete or wrong for that matter. Diversity should not be feared, it should be embraced and looked at as a positive thing. Diversity in the educational system is important.
It creates the opportunity for teachers and parents to prepare students for the real-world. I have a 3-year-old nephew, diagnosed with Autism who is going to start school this fall. When his mother was visiting schools, I would ask her other than the normal questions about the schools was, “Are the students, staff and teachers diverse?” Out of the 4 schools visited only one was diverse which is the school he will be attending. Enrolling a child in a diverse early childhood program at a young age will benefit both parents and children.
It will ease the fear of what is unknown and inform them about other cultures, races and ethnicities as well as answer the “why” questions such as “Why does this child dress this way or why does this child eat certain foods?” Everyone is unique in their own way and has something to bring to the table. I currently work at a community college that is diverse and rich in cultures, and ethnicities, not only in the student body, but amongst the faculty and staff. Being on the campus with people of different backgrounds is rewarding. To see the pride and determination of these students is rewarding especially when I hear them say they are the first in their family to go to college and how they come from their countries in search of a better education and life. The students, in my opinion are graduating with more than a degree, they are leaving with knowledge and how to respect others and most importantly how to coexist. In education, the challenges teachers face is how to instill hope into students.
Students need to see themselves as unique individuals that can contribute to society with their knowledge and experiences. Open dialogue between students and teachers should be used to empower all students regardless of their background. Professional development is important focusing on how to be sensitive to the different ethnicities in the school, and to not favor one over the other, encouraging all students to speak because they all bring new experiences to the classroom and to not be ashamed to rethink and change the class set-up, use small group and collaborative activities to have students observe and hear different perspectives and opinions on different cultures. Change can begin with one person and impact the lives of future generations.
As an African American woman, diversity means a great deal to me. I grew up in a diverse neighborhood with Spanish, Russian, Jewish, Black and Asian and everyone got along. There were different socioeconomic backgrounds, some families were doing better than others, but for the most part everyone communicated and the children were not isolated. Personally, diversity began in my early childhood years.
I come from a family who had their share of problems as far as money. We were on welfare several times when my father was out of work. I did not grow up wearing the latest fashions or sneakers. My parents bought what they could afford. Raising 5 kids, living in the projects and surviving off one income was not easy for them.
This was also the case for many of the other families. It brought families closer and it created friendships in the community between different ethnicities because everyone was going through the same thing. People bonded over their struggles. I can honestly say diversity can change stereotypes and biases.
My father was raised in the era when the Black Panthers were around. My grandmother was a Black Panther and I remember my father telling me that when he was in high school, my grandmother pulled him out of the school he was attending to put him in an all-Black school. Despite him learning in an environment where everyone looked the same, he does not show bias towards anyone. He never sheltered or instilled in me or my siblings that Black is the only race that matters.
We grew up knowing our history, but also learned about other histories that helped shape this country. In conclusion, the importance of diversity means a lot to me. I would not be who I am today without it. I would not have come as far as I have with a closed mind. Society is constantly changing, having an open-mind is necessary if we want to be a part of the change that is happening. We can only have success if we all work together.
Diversity should be encouraged in all aspects of life.