Diversity – “Be Proud of Who You Are”

Lady Gaga poster at PSNK (Poster by Deanna Mazur)

By Melissa Gemballa


UPPER BURRELL, Pa. – Diversity: a catch phrase we hear more and more often these days in the context of business and society. According to MSN Encarta, diversity has three meanings: a variety of something such as opinion, color, or style; ethnic variety, as well as socioeconomic and gender variety, in a group, society, or institution; and discrepancy, or difference from what is normal or expected. It originates from the Latin word “diversus,” which, as found in the Latin Word List, translates as “different, unlike, opposed, hostile.” Hostile?

Obviously, the word has come a long way since the Middle Ages, but what exactly does a “group, society, or institution” mean when it declares that it supports diversity? Does that mean that it includes individuals from different minorities in its group? Different religions? Different sexual orientations? Obviously, I can do only so much to conceal the physical features that might indicate I belong to a minority group, but should the group really know to what god I choose to pray or to what gender I am attracted?

What if I’m too diverse? What if I can trace my ancestry back to the lost city of Atlantis? If I practice Druidism? If I’m attracted to females but only if they belong to an alien race? What if I’m not diverse enough? What if the group already has too many members with brown hair? Or avidly watch “Glee” each week? Or who like chocolate ice cream? What if everybody’s on Team Edward, and I am too?

It is no secret that the college years represent a time when young people struggle most with who they are and how they fit in with their peers. At the behest of the campus’s Diversity Committee, Vanessa Myers, committee member and Penn State New Ken’s Assistant to the Director of Student Affairs, and Deanna Mazur, Student Marketing Intern, have embarked on a semester-long initiative to increase students’ awareness of diversity issues.

The campaign, entitled “Be Proud of Who You Are,” kicked off Jan. 17. Posters of famous figures, mostly contemporary, who have spoken out about the importance of embracing diversity are on display on the bulletin board in the campus’s lower-level student lounge. Featured first is Lady Gaga who admonishes us to “shine in [our] own way.”

Theresa Bonk, Penn State New Ken’s Director of Student Affairs, has been involved with diversity issues since she began her career with this campus fifteen years ago. Although there is a pat answer involving gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, age – and the list appears endless – Bonk defines diversity as “acknowledging and celebrating the differences between people…but also the similarities.” She feels strongly that we must strive continuously to bring these differences – and similarities – into our classroom conversation.

“How can you expect to have great learning without [diversity]?” Bonk asked. She considers it an important part of her role to provide students with “as broad of a perspective as they can possibly have so that when they leave here they can interact and compete in any environment, whether that’s in Vandergrift or Cameroon, South Africa.”

Consider this quote from Michel de Montaigne, a 16th century French philosopher and writer: “There never were in the world two opinions alike, no more than two hairs or two grains; the most universal quality is diversity.” And it’s true. As I look around myself at home, in the classroom, and at social gatherings, I find no one (thankfully) who is identical to me.

Regardless of how many things we have in common, there will always be some things we don’t have in common. It may be something seemingly large; perhaps you’re a Christian, and I’m a Muslim. Or it may be something relatively small; perhaps you prefer Pepsi and I prefer Coke. The point is that those are the times to open your mind and your arms to the vast world around you. The grass may or may not be greener on the other side of the fence, but you won’t know until you look.

I think perhaps the real concept behind diversity is not necessarily to search for all the ways you’re different than me (but not to be blind to all the ways you’re different from me either). Rather, it is to accept that we are all different, to respect those differences and not use them to negatively label each other, and to understand that we cannot evolve as the human race without those differences.

Students interested in learning more about or serving as a representative on the Diversity Committee should contact committee co-chairs Dee O’Hara, dmo6@psu.edu, or Yesenia Figueroa-Lifschitz, yuf3@psu.edu.


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