Diversity Conversation(s)

Race is not talked about at Muhlenberg. One of the programs at Muhlenberg, and honestly the only program, that is mandatory for students to increase awareness about diversity is the Sedehi Diversity Project (a documentary theater project created by students, culminating in a performance for incoming First Years at orientation). I applaud all those involved in the emotional and extremely valuable play that is intended to promote not only race talks, but conversation about all types of diversity. It is obvious that this project is extremely needed, not only in the context of Muhlenberg as an institution, but based on the political and social climates of the United States. Therefore, my criticism is not on the Diversity Project itself, but I ask why the institution does not continue to educate our students, who are overwhelmingly white and privileged, throughout our time at college?

According to the Muhlenberg website, information about the Sedehi Diversity Project states that we have “conversations about diversity and multiculturalism at Muhlenberg College”. I would like to draw attention to the part of their claim that we have conversations –plural– which indicates that we talk about this more than once. This statement is entirely false. During orientation, we attend the Sedehi Diversity Project and then are broken into groups, facilitated by the play’s actors, and engage in a conversation about the topics presented in the play. Topics include “people of different races, with different cultural histories, different social backgrounds, different faiths, different bodies, different sexualities and different gender identities”.

In addition, our website states that “at Muhlenberg, we talk about it – at club meetings, in residence halls, in the Dining Commons and on the sidewalk. But we also set aside special time for focused conversations.” I would like to strongly disagree with this statement.

At Muhlenberg, we engage in talks about diversity only once. Diversity, in general, is an extremely important topic but in the context of this blog, I would like to focus on the race issues of diversity. The Diversity Project does an amazing job at breaking down potential barriers and allowing a space for initial race talks to happen. The problem is, that this is the one and only time in which students engage in this type of activity. Not only does the college claim that we engage in “conversations” when really it is only one singular conversation, amidst a flurry of orientation activity, but we do not continue to talk about race unless a student specifically involves themselves in the available campus activities. Race is a taboo topic and is categorized as a no-no table topic, along with sex, politics, and religion. I disagree with the statement by the school that states that students engage in race talks outside of the Sedehi Diversity Project. We do not set aside “special time” for conversations, just conversation.

This baffles me because of several reasons. Orientation for incoming freshmen is an overwhelming amount of information presented to you all at once and you are then expected to remember everything from orientation, navigate new classes and schedules, and figure out how dorm life works. It is a lot to have to do and I can personally say that I can barely remember who was in my orientation group, what we did, or what we talked about in the Sedehi Diversity Project. I can remember that it was extraordinarily powerful and is one of the few concrete memories that I have of orientation, which means, to me, that the Sedehi Diversity Project was a memorable and important event of orientation.

After orientation though, there are no further race talks ever. At a liberal arts college, we pride ourselves in our interdisciplinary approach to higher education. With the extensive General Academic Requirements (GARs) and our many optional clubs, affinity groups and campus events, there are options to be involved. That is the problem though. It is entirely possible to completely avoid the topic of race here at Muhlenberg College. Based on the events and social climate of our campus, it is evident that we desperately need to educate our white students and help them become allies.

My question therefore is this: At a college that prides itself on the interdisciplinary nature of our liberal arts education, why is there no continuing education intended on fostering race talks with the specific goal of promoting allyship when there is clearly a need for it?