The Importance of Diversity
One of the positive outcomes of a sense of diversity on campus is that students are more likely to see other students (and faculty) who reflect their own identities and therefore create a sense of community and decrease feelings of isolation. Riley Temple ‘71 describes one such instance of how this made him feel less alone. He explains, “There was a section in the library here, and it was only about yae big, about homosexuality. And what was interesting about that section was that the carpeting was always worn down in front of that bookshelf. And the books that talked about it... I mean, just fell open to the same pages. Isn’t that something?” [28:00].
This story shows the way in which the existence of an LGBTQ+ population showed itself outside of the concept of outness that I have so far described as diversity. However, in this instance, even if there was not a sense of outward diversity, for Temple the existence of others who had similar questions and uncertainties about their identity showed him that there were people like him at the college, or, in other words, that the school was more diverse than the lack of out LGBTQ+ people implied it to be.
Another way diversity is important is the way in which it takes the pressure off individuals who hold a specific identity. In his interview, Daniel Reynolds ‘08 explains that in one of his classes, he was often asked to give his opinion on issues “as the gay person on campus” and be asked “to speak for the gay community” [36:00]. In a similar way, in the following quote, Leah Wasacz '16 speaks to the discomfort of being the only out trans-woman on campus.
What if I show somebody -- what if I’m like the archetype for somebody, in their brain, and then that has some sort of effect on how they see other trans people? You know? Like, if I’m a white person, would that make it harder for them to accept black trans people just because it doesn’t immediately fit with the image in their brain. Or trans people who pass worse than me, or pass better than me. Or female-to-male trans people. Or non-binary trans people. And I’m really uncomfortable being like, ‘Hey. This is my go-to example.’ In their brains. But I can’t not do that. Because they met me. [37:00-38:00]
These examples show how a lack of diversity leads minority students to be placed under a high degree of pressure to represent their community. No straight person would ever be asked to speak for all straight people, nor would you ask a white person to give the opinion of all white people. However, minority students, particularly in places with incredibly low visible diversity, have the burden of representing their entire group. No group of people is monolithic, but when there are only a handful of people with a certain identity on campus, the narrative that there is only one kind of X person is easy for members of majority groups to believe.
In addition, having a higher visibility of LGBTQ+ students creates an atmosphere of greater acceptance, and makes other students feel more comfortable exploring their identity and coming out themselves. By showing not only that the school is diverse, but also that it values diversity as an ideal, some believe that atmospheres of hatred will become unacceptable. In his speech at the 2006 “gay? fine by me” rally, Daniel Reynolds explains that “Now more than ever it has become essential that we as a student body and faculty join our efforts to let these hatemongers know that it is they who are in the minority. By wearing this t-shirt today, you are giving voice to the true feelings of this college, that hatred and discrimination in any form are unacceptable.” This portion of his speech shows the value he has put on diversity, as well as greater acceptance, on campus.
Students who know that they are LGBTQ+ before coming to college will be more likely to attend the school if they believe there is an atmosphere of diversity and acceptance on campus. Stephen Parahus ‘84 discusses this idea and explains that “the worst thing you could have is a school that’s genuinely heteronormative, because anything that would add diversity to your campus self-selects out” [53:00]. By being visibly diverse, more marginalized students are likely to attend the college, and perhaps, in turn, this may make the school a more accepting place.
Finally, diversity can also be understood, for lack of a better description, for diversity's sake. Many argue that diversity is important because it encourages a greater atmosphere of discussion and thoughtfulness in a way that not only benefits marginalized or traditionally underrepresented students, but all students. This sentiment can be seen in the way Leah Wasacz ‘16 describes the diversity of BCD. “And it was also really incredible because it was a super-diverse place. Like: BCD, when I started going, was like half-Black, and Stacey is Jamaican, and we had international students there -- and Gay men, and Lesbians, and I was a trans person. It was so -- a microcosm of what Lafayette talks about when they talk about diversity” [20:00].
Leah, a white, transgender, and bisexual student, valued the diversity of BCD not because it included people who were like her but because it was made of people who had different experiences and identities than her own, and she valued this diversity.