A Variety of...Minds? One Student Gets Diversity Right

Jason Fertig

Every other semester, one of my teaching assignments is an Introduction to Human Resource Management class.  I always approach this class with dread because the standard curriculum of HRM is not reflective of true higher education – it is a mix of vocational training and PC terminology.  To compound my annual angst, a large portion of students who enroll in Intro to HRM have little to no HR experience, which renders discussions of HR management practices moot.   Therefore, in order to make this teaching assignment tolerable, I create debates on “tough issues” involved with managing people.  To my delight, I was rewarded in this choice of pedagogy this semester when one student hit the equivalent of a “hole-in-one” in class.

One of my favorite topics on which I engage difficult discussions is “hiring a diverse workforce” because I force students to articulate clichés that they were conditioned to repeat.  As deconstructed in Peter Wood’s Diversity: The Invention of a Concept, as well as on the NAS site over the past years, diversity is a term with noble intentions but flawed practices – much like sustainability.  No sane-minded person would be “against diversity,” but he may be against viewing human beings primarily through the lens of race, gender, ethnicity, etc.  Thus, I aim to give students a critical view of diversity at least once in their college careers.

In order to do so, I initially assign a simple essay – “What is the definition of diversity?  How does it contribute to the success of organizations?”  I normally receive a collection of illogical PC theses which convey messages such as:

Diversity is defined as variety in a person’s race, gender, nationality, and religion…The most important reason for diversity is the benefit a business will receive by opening itself up to the new ideas and exchanges that a diversified workplace offers. 

Such essay responses lead me to ask students how the aforementioned traits lead to different thinking.  Isn’t assuming that each race or gender “thinks differently” quite prejudiced?  What is the official female view on straight-line depreciation?  Hence, the essays are only the beginning of the discussion; I aim for students to be able to define whether they are talking about diversity in the form of anti-discrimination or diversity of thought before making conclusions (while hoping I keep my job in the process). 

With that lesson plan in mind, to my utter enjoyment, I was proud to receive the following recent essay from a student.  I deserve no credit for the following paragraphs; this was all the student’s work:

Diversity can be beneficial to an organization, of course depending on how one interprets that idea of diversity.  Nowadays, that interpretation is bad for organizations because of crippling legislation passed in the name of good intentions. For example, Affirmative Action laws put too much emphasis on unimportant things that do not affect an organization’s business.

Before I started writing this essay, the first thing that I thought I should was to look up a universal definition of the word diversity. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines diversity as “the condition of being diverse.” Then I thought, well, that does not do us any good if we do not know what the word diverse means. So, I looked that one up too. The dictionary defines diverse as “differing from one another, or composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities.” Once I soaked that in, I decided in the name of diversity, and for the sake of this essay, I would look up diversity (and diverse) in German. Webster’s New World German Dictionary defines Vielfalt (diversity) as variety, and verschieden (diverse) as different. Providing the reader with definitions in German really brings out diversity in my essay by making it politically correct and reader-friendly so I do not offend anyone.

Today, organizations essentially told to become more diverse. This is part of policy which aims to give minorities and women a better chance of landing a job in the job market without discrimination. Yet, times have changed. Women and minorities are not being discriminated against as much as they were in previous years. These groups of people have just as much of an impact on society, if not more, than white men. Some people in this world still do not think that way, but we should start educating people on how society has transformed. Putting policies in place telling people that they MUST have a more diverse organization is not going to help achieve a colorblind society because it will force companies to see employees in terms of race and gender, rather than as human beings.

Consider the diversity program at a college that my friend attends.  This school gives full ride scholarships to people from other countries of different nationalities so that the university can say there is a more diverse group of students. It would be interesting to know what they get for having the highest percentage of such diversity.  Are these people really more deserving of free schooling in the United States than someone who is the same nationality as 90% of everyone else at that school?  Just because a non-minority grew up in a decent neighborhood, went to a good public school, and lived in a middle income household, does not mean that he does not need assistance with school tuition.

When an organization is told it needs more diversity among its members, why do most people automatically pinpoint race, sex, religion, or nationality? Why is our society programmed to think that a brochure for student activities and clubs needs to have every race represented on it?   If the brochure lacks such “diversity,” that school gets slammed with accusations of racism and possible lawsuits.

People have become too sensitive in today’s society when it comes to diversity. Just because there are more white men with the same color of light skin in one office building does not mean that they do their job better or worse than a diverse office with a mix of races, genders, and skin colors.

Diverse organizations should be made up of a variety of minds. Race, color, sex, nationality, and religion should not be the sole determining factors of whether an organization is diverse or not. Different thoughts and opinions are what make organizations work and thrive. Different people coming together and putting their ideas together is how we transform and grow our organizations. Once society begins to understand this, our organizations will not have to worry about discrimination or affirmative action; diversity will come naturally.

I was so thrilled to see a student think for herself (yes, a female wrote this).  While such an essay is likely to get one expelled from a social work masters program, it shows that not all students go along with prescribed speech codes.  An honest talk on diversity involves deconstructing the platitude into different discussions of topics such as generation gaps, male-female differences, globalization, or social norms without closing off conversation by calling someone a bigot, racist, sexist, etc.

Here’s to hoping that more students like the one above find their voices and use them. 

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