Diversity: Paper or Practice?
3 mins read

Diversity: Paper or Practice?

The University of South Dakota is committed to the values of diversity and inclusive excellence. Diversity is the understanding and recognition of individual differences. These differences range from age and race to political ideology and thought.

However, diversity is not just descriptive representation in a community, but substantive representation. Though prioritizing diversity is a good thing, fostering a community of “diversity on paper” actually undermines the value of a diverse community. In order to claim one is committed to the value of diversity, one must do more than simply have a diverse-looking community. They must also acknowledge, support, and actively engage their diverse community members.

“Diversity on paper” is a phrase used when rebuking a person’s claim of being diverse.  Diversity in practice is the term for the successful commitment, support, acknowledgment and engagement of diverse community members. The problem with diversity on paper is that it fails to go far enough. Once diverse members belong to a community, if the community claims diversity without providing a supportive environment where members can share their thoughts, experiences and backgrounds, then the community is not actually committed to diversity.

Simply having people who add to the appearance of diversity is not diversity per se, but actually just the first step: acceptance. Appointing a diverse member to a spot on a committee is not enough to increase diversity if the spot is purely symbolic.

The second step of being committed to diversity is acknowledgment. If people in power—politicians, administrators, authority figures—fail to acknowledge the diverse members of their community, then the community is not committed to diversity. Acknowledging diverse members encourages them to speak on their experiences, backgrounds, and thoughts. Without acknowledgment, the community will marginalize these diverse members of the community; the marginalization of these community members is the antithesis of diversity.

Third is the process of support. A community cannot just acknowledge the diverse members of the community, the community must also support them. This does not necessarily mean agreement. People can still have civil debate and come to the best decision for the community. In this case, supporting diverse members of a community means providing them the opportunity and freedoms to practice, express their diversity while being protected by the community.

Last is active engagement. The final step to being committed to the value of diversity the community actively engaging with diverse members. Seeking to have conversations and debate respectfully with diverse members, seeking to know the thoughts of diverse members, volunteering to participate and support diverse members in their practices: these are all ways a person or community can actively engage their diverse members in a supportive manner. A prime example of diversity in practice on USD’s campus is the Festival of Nations.

Though our campus is “committed” to the value of diversity, I rarely see the university—or the state of South Dakota—demonstrating their commitment to diversity in practice by listening and considering the diverse members of their community when making decisions, except in a few instances like Festival of Nations. Often, their commitment is to diversity on paper only.