Diversity is a virtue that is altogether misunderstood in today’s world. In order to understand the value of diversity, the first step is to examine diversity as a virtue. The word virtue stems from the Latin root virtus meaning worth (ND Latin Dictionary). Virtues denote a person’s worth in modern society, but at the same time the understanding of what is and is not considered a virtue differs based on personal experiences. For example, I consider empathy a virtue because when people have been empathetic with me in the past that has tended to tell me a lot about the person’s character. Someone who has not learned to associate empathy with a person’s worth would not consider this a virtue. Keeping this in mind, a virtue is anything that displays a person’s uniqueness and what that person can bring into a relationship.
This being said, the diversity of an institution, company, or even within small groups of people says a lot about its uniqueness and everything it has to offer to a greater community. Whether people are united for a common cause differ sexually, culturally, religiously, or in any other way, their points of diversity enhance the well-being and efficacy of their common cause. When a group of unique individuals comes together, the collection of the different experiences and perspectives has the power to benefit the pursuit for scientific truth (Michael).
Diversity exists in many different ways; individuals can be diverse in their appearances, their experiences, and their values. Although having diversity is important, it is not only having diverse peers that is important. Once we learn to acknowledge our differences, we can learn how to reconcile the bad differences and leverage the good ones for the betterment of our community. By doing so, we become more aware, open-minded, sensitive, respectful, and most importantly we become more proactive than reactive (Biga).
People normally relate the word ‘diversity’ to differences in race and cultural background. This facet of diversity is an integral part of my personal definition of diversity. These differences are sometimes, but not always, observable. When I consider what diversity means culturally, I also keep in mind the cultural differences that are not apparent. In today’s society, some cultures get lumped together with others just because the general population cannot differentiate between the two.
One of the most prevalent examples of this faulty association in our society is among major league baseball players. Unbeknownst to many fans, African-American players no longer hold the majority in baseball and the sport is becoming more and more dominated by Hispanic athletes. The color of their skin is comparable, they look very similar, and if you are not consciously trying to be aware of their differences, it is very easy to catch yourself thinking that these players are all black. I have baseball fan for many years and made this mistake countless times myself; for example I would look at players like Roberto Clemente and Yasiel Puig and assume they were both African American merely based on their dark skin. It was not until I learned their stories that I realized that Roberto Clemente was a Puerto Rican philanthropist who died on a flight to do mission work and Yasiel Puig is a Cuban American refugee who battled human trafficking to do what he loves in the United States. When we make an effort to value diversity, we learn so much about the lives of people who could just as easily be swept under the cultural rug/rug of cultural assumptions.
Nhat Nguyen’s presentation made this lesson real for me by bringing the issue to Notre Dame. Listening to Notre Dame’s only minority rector talk about his experiences with cultural diversity helped me learn how to view race and culture on campus. Being a Native American student, I am sometimes unsure of how people view me or what my peers think when they see me; Nhat Nguyen helped me realize that someone needs to be the voice for their culture or just diversity in general. In order to spread the benefits of cultural diversity on campus, we need to be actively seeking to learn more about every individual’s background. We must ‘admit that we don’t know what we don’t know [until we ask]’(Nguyen).
There are many other types of diversity besides cultural and racial; today’s world is filled with people of so many backgrounds that each minute difference holds its specific value. In the past, gender and sexual orientation have not been considered aspects of a diverse community; however, I believe that in the 21st Century we must take this into account. Just as acknowledging and valuing cultural diversity reveals more about what an individual can bring to a community, acknowledging and valuing differences in gender and sexual orientation will have the same effect.
There has been a new push on campus and across the nation to support diversity of gender and sexual orientation. The most notable of these efforts is the support of women in science. Verizon wireless launched a commercial shedding light on the lack of female engineering majors in colleges across the nation, even though the same amount of girls and boys in grade school show an interest in math and science. The United States is moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot to be done before we start benefitting from this type of diversity.
It will be challenging to teach others the value of gender and sexual orientation-related diversity. Cultural diversity is easy to explain and the stories of oppression are aggressive and obvious. The biggest obstacle with teaching about gender and sexual orientation-related diversity is that the differences are not always observable and their oppression is often passive. There are a couple approaches to this problem, but I believe Dr. Philippe Collon has the right idea. When asked how he feels about being a gay professor at a university as conservative as Notre Dame, he retorted, “I’m here to be who I am as a physicist”(Collon). In the end, valuing and acknowledging gender and sexual orientation-related diversity will stimulate an appreciation for who people are at their core: their goals, interests, and dreams.
Some types of diversity can be pillars of unity, while some others may cause some contention. Religious diversity is very fragile, but when everyone works together it may be very productive. Dean Page told the story of the church on Eddy Street. When a primarily African-American church tried to build their church in South Bend and the Klu Klux Klan tried to stop them, Catholic students at Notre Dame stood watch until the church was completed (Page). Although the founders of the church and the students were different religions, the appeal to their common beliefs allowed them to work together to make something beautiful. When this sort of diversity stimulates conversation and constructive interactions, everyone prospers.
On campus, I have learned a lot by talking to my friends of different religions. Even when I was at Notre Dame for pre-college programs, having conversations with people of different denominations helped me grow in faith and as a person. I can think of one time, I sat in a dorm chapel and had a conversation with four friends; another Catholic, an Orthodox Christian, and a Lutheran. After talking for a couple hours, we all had a better appreciation for each other’s religions. This memory came to mind when listening to Dr. Miles Andrews of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints talk about how religious diversity establishes a community of free thinkers. Dr. Andrews suggested that this is the only was that tolerance grows to acceptance and then eventually to love (Andrews).
The last type of diversity that I believe is very important to have in any community including Notre Dame is diversity of background. Dr. Feranmi Okanlami, a man faced with the hardship of paralysis, taught me how to focus on potential instead of fortune. He is now in the ESTEEM program, even though he already has a M.D., because he is still fully capable of using his mind despite not being able to practice medicine anymore (Okanlami). His optimism showed me how diversity of background and experience is one of the most important types of diversity to have.
Once we have learned not only to acknowledge but also to seek out diversity, there is still one step left: using it. Many of the final speakers explained how respect, inclusion, and taking action are the three steps of putting diversity to use. No one should have to change him or herself in order to fit in; therefore, we must respect who everyone is (Chambers). Opening one’s community to everyone allows diversity to flow naturally; therefore, inclusion is key (Jackson). Finally after all the planning, someone has to take the first step; therefore, taking action puts everything in motion (Howard). When it all comes together, diversity is the freedom to be engaged (Jones). Every aspect of diversity that I have mentioned is something that I have both encountered and wish to improve upon in all the communities of which I am a part. To me, the virtue of diversity is priceless aspect of human life that allows us to build each other up every day.
Andrews, Miles. “Religion Panel.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Biga, Fred. “Diversity at Goldman Sachs.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Chambers, Monica. “Diversity as HR Director of IBM.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Collon, Philippe. “Diversity in the Academy panel.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Howard, Reggie. “Diversity in the United Athletes Foundation.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Jackson, Fields. “Diversity Magazine.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Jones, Olivet. “Diversity at The Felicity Group.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Michael, Edwin. “Diversity in the Academy panel.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Nguyen, Nhat. “Diversity as Rector of Duncan Hall and Life Story.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Okanlami, Feranmi. “Diversity in overcoming Adversity and Life Story.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
Page, Hugh. “Diversity in First Year Studies and Life Story.” Diversity, Culture, Religion in Science. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. 20 Sept. 2014. Lecture.
“‘Virtus, -i’ Definition.” Latin Word Lookup. University of Notre Dame, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.