To be clear from the start, I am not arguing that having a diverse student body and faculty is, in any way, a negative thing. I am, however, arguing that diversity is not enough to create a safe and welcoming community for LGBTQ+ individuals, or individuals from other marginalized groups, and that painting the school as a place that celebrates diversity may take attention away from problems that still exist.
For example, Daniel Reynolds ‘08 describes the way in which sexism still existed at the time he attended the school, despite a high degree of gender diversity. He explains,
“Yeah. There were more women than men at Lafayette at the time. There were problems with rape, and the frats were feeding into that. You hear these horror stories coming out of some fraternities where they’re drugging women with these cocktails. It’s like, ‘Well, okay. So, there’s a lot of women on campus, but that doesn’t mean that you as man are now a feminist. Or you as a woman are now a feminist’” [55:00-56:00].
In addition, despite the fact that the existence of the Black Cultural Center highlighted and made visible the existence of black students at Lafayette, it did not, obviously, make racial bias or discrimination nonexistent. For example, in 1985, a student wrote to the Dean about an example of a hateful vandalism of her car by members of Delta Upsilon, as well as harassment from them following the event, which occured in the parking lot of the Black Cultural Center.
In a similar way, although events like the “gay? fine by me.” rally and the visibility of out students on campus make Lafayette more visibly diverse, the college is by no means now void of homophobia. Diversity is incredibly important, and can help create atmospheres of greater acceptance and comfort, but the mere presence of a diverse student body and faculty is not enough to guarantee the well-being of marginalized students on campus. Although a focus on diversity as one aspect of building communities of acceptance is important, it can not be the only thing done. The college must institute policies and provisions to create accommodations for, and guarantee the safety of, these people. It is not enough to bring diverse students to the school, or to have a large number of out LGBTQ+ students, if the school does not provide the resources and safety that these groups require. Examples of the provisions that have already been created are the inclusion of domestic partner benefits for faculty at Lafayette and the inclusion of sexuality into Lafayette’s anti-discrimination statements. Steps such as these are incredibly important, and need to be taken by the Lafayette administration in order to make the school a safer place for the people who they bring in to maintain their image as a highly diverse school.
Diversity has come a long way since the seventies, and should continue to increase as time goes on. I believe, however, that a focus on diversity sometimes erases or overlooks the important institutional changes that need to be made. For example, one of the ideas that a few students, myself included, talked about during this year’s (2019) equality rally was the fact that divisions of the college, such as admissions and communications, show off how diverse the school is, while real issues that the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups have been fighting for, such as the creation of campus wide gender neutral bathrooms, the inclusion of trans-health on the college health insurance plan, and the increase in classes related to queer studies (which were outlined in the 2017 Quest letter to the Lafayette community) have been met with, at best, bureaucratic foot-dragging. This means that most of the changes that do happen do so after many of the students who are asking for them have already graduated. So although a diverse student body is an important goal to work towards, it cannot be the only one. In addition, by romanticizing the ideal of diversity, the school risks overlooking the actual changes that need to be made for the well-being of its marginalized students while simultaneously patting itself on the back for how progressive it is.