In Defense of Embracing—Not Separating—Differences
While rhetoric on college campuses often falls along lines of radical inclusivity, more and more events at the Claremont Colleges appear to be segregated by race, sex, or orientation. Often these events are advertised in ways that try to frame such segregation as inclusive, such as when Pitzer College administrators defended segregated housing. Recently, such events include a pool party at Scripps several semesters ago— an event which was opened up to the general public after criticism and potential violations of the federal government’s Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on race or national origin. Pitzer’s climbing club held a POC-only climb night later that same semester. This semester, the Queer Resource Center is holding a mixer exclusively for students who happen to be both Black and LGBTQ+ to kick off Black History Month. Other events have also advertised themselves in ways that indicate that only a select group can participate. These events are separate from the numerous other events held at Claremont that are geared towards a certain demographic but still remain open to whoever wants to participate. All these trends show that it is not only the students who are pushing for this separation, but also the institutions themselves.
At first glance, it’s logical that people of different racial, cultural, or economic backgrounds would feel most comfortable in a space predominantly composed of those with similar experiences. It’s easiest, after all, to find common ground with others who look or act like oneself. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with this instinct—people deserve to feel comfortable insofar as possible, especially with friends. It is absolutely acceptable for certain groups to have spaces centered around those groups. But the best and the most comfortable paths very often diverge. It’s all too easy to be seduced by the familiarity and comfort of the known, but it’s equally easy for that desire for comfort and security to become a fear of things that might disrupt it.
Herein lies the danger in taking the comfortable path and why exclusion is never acceptable. That fear can, and often does, lead to inflexibility, paranoia, and even hatred. It’s bad enough in self-segregated spaces—for example, private parties closed to those outside of a particular group. But in the case of officially-endorsed segregation, as at the Scripps pool party of a few years ago or the BlaQ mixer this February, there’s the extra weight of institutional legitimacy to consider.
The mindset of those involved shifts from “my friends and I prefer to remain closed to others because we have a shared identity of some kind” to “the institution of which I am a part recognizes and supports my group’s choice to separate ourselves from the community.” This mindset only exacerbates the preexisting attitude that one should remain within one’s particular identity group, and makes the kind of intellectual exchange college is intended to facilitate all but impossible to achieve.
That’s the real tragedy of our society’s growing tendency to draw lines where none need exist: it constricts the previously-unchecked flow of ideas and experiences that are part and parcel of bringing people together. And it’s not as though only one side benefits from this exchange. Provided they fully accept the spirit of intellectual and experiential diversity, all those involved in it can profit from it in some way. On the occasion that, at Pomona and the other Claremont Colleges, we’ve found our way into groups that are outside of our comfort zones, we’ve always come away enriched in some way. Claremont Colleges students are mature enough to not hijack group-centered events, making exclusion even more senseless. Exclusion only creates barriers that prevent intergroup understanding and a more collaborative college environment; on already self-segregated college campuses, it creates an outwardly-diverse community, but one that has less inter-group interaction. To better prepare students for life after Claremont, where workplaces bring together peoples of all races and creeds, Claremont students should embrace differences at every turn, instead of falling back to comfort zones; after all, without pushing our limits of comfort, our comfort zones never expand.
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