Michael Hagan ’15
My headline is my thesis- bold claim, right? Providence College is one of many racially and culturally homogenous crossroads of people of privilege in the northeast. Privilege is an enormous spectrum unto itself, and it has various sources. Some privilege is a free gift, and some privilege must be fought for and earned. Privilege is not inherently advantageous. It can be a burden. It can be abused.
The phenomenon known as “white privilege” is, to our country’s shame, a thing. It is true that well over 76% of the Providence College student body has benefitted in varying degrees from it. We white folks tend to attract more friendly waves than suspicious glares from law enforcement and security personnel in public places. We can speak improperly, drive poorly, and receive public assistance; no one attributes these to our “whiteness.” Forty-three white men have served as President of the United States; not one of them has been accused of winning “just because he’s white.” From job interviews to airport security, from customer service to criminal justice – white privilege is real.
As established, privilege is not inherently advantageous. The conveniences that come with white privilege have, do, and will hurt us all no matter our race. Diversity initiatives at Providence College are how we seek to avert further damage from systematic injustices. We all too commonly think that the purpose of such initiatives is to compensate for past mistreatment. It’s not about reciprocity; it’s about the social vitality of this community. Until we realize that our goal must be greater than righting history’s wrongs, we don’t understand “diversity.” Diversity is not a gift from white people to minority populations; it is something that we must achieve together through concerted efforts. The Priory, the Office for Multicultural Activities, BMSA, and the Chief Diversity Officer might understand this, but until the student body does as well, Providence College does not know diversity.
We put our misunderstanding of diversity on display in our speech, behavior, and every so often in print. The article “Diversity: More than Skin Color” from this past week’s Cowl is such a display. From ignoring white privilege to relying on the outdated term “colored,” the article reflects an ingrained and reinforced misunderstanding. The use of the term “diverse” as though it can be properly applied to individual students (“This would not be outrageous if diverse students earned the scholarships”) reflects this misunderstanding. The student body is not made up of “diverse people” and “un-diverse people” as the author contends. The Providence College community is the subject of “diverse,” and only by a community can diversity be possessed. Diversity is something we must actively participate in to possess; to use a theologically loaded term, it has much in common with “communion” in this sense. We will be reluctant to participate in diversity if we do not understand it; once we understand, we would be foolish not to participate.
In this regard, I agree with the author from the Cowl because she applauds the emphasis on teaching diversity. Teaching diversity will hopefully compel students to shed misinformed beliefs like the ones she expounded last week. Teaching is so critical to diversity initiatives, because presently it is clear that we as a student body don’t know the first thing about diversity.