It’s a word we hear bandied about often in the media and conversation these days: diversity.
We hear about the need to increase it, maintain it, foster it and be accepting of it. Yet defining what “it” truly is – what diversity really means to different individuals – is no simple task. Scholars, activists and politicians have done their best to come up with what it means to be diverse, and in almost every case the definition has been too nuanced or specific to agree upon.
As we enter the second day of Black History Month, in the 30th year for Colorado State’s Black Student Alliance, “diversity” is a word of the utmost importance for us to understand – an idea, clearly defined or not, that we must become more familiar with.
Yesterday, Nevil Shed kicked off Black History Month with his presentation of the movie “Glory Road”; a movie based on his experience as a member of the Texas Western basketball team in 1966. That year, Mr. Shed was a member of the first all-black team to win the NCAA Division I championship.
A civil rights giant in every sense of the word – from his towering physique to his personality and actions – Mr. Shed exudes passion in every word. Basically, along with his teammates, Mr. Shed was responsible for integrating college basketball, and with it a part of the public consciousness.
“That game, we knew it was black versus white and all that, but we weren’t thinking about it any different than other games,” said Shed in an interview after the opening ceremonies for Black History Month in the Lory Student Center. “We looked at it as the best going against the best. All we cared about was winning that one game and winning the championship.”
Yet the moment the final seconds expired on the scoreboard, Mr. Shed had in fact been part of something much larger than just a national championship; he had played a starring role in changing the world for many who followed after him.
“It’s amazing to see the impact of what we did, now, forty years later,” Shed said. “Overall, we have come so far since that time, the way it was back then. We still have a ways to go, but it’s so much better now then it once was.”
In January 2006, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University published a report stating that the United States is in a trend of resegregation; a movement away from different ethnicities attending public schools together.
Instead, the report states, inner cities like Detroit, Atlanta and Denver are beginning to have student bodies made up of 90 percent African American and Hispanic populations. The suburbs around these same cities have the opposite demographics in public schools, with a large Caucasian majority making up the student bodies.
It is a phenomenon called de facto segregation, an occurrence that is completely legal; precedent-setting cases from the U.S. Supreme Court like Brown v. Board of Education do not acknowledge this type of segregation.
Yet legality is not the problem with de facto segregation. The problem is a deeper one. Without interacting together, we will never know about worlds different than our own; we will have a homogenous experience, quite opposite from any working definition of diversity.
“Really, diversity is networking, getting to know one and other for who we are, as the people we are,” Shed said. “It used to be if I was sitting with you (Jake Blumberg), a white guy, people would be whispering about why a black guy and white guy were talking together. Now, we can talk and network for who we are, not what we look like.”
The idea of diversity being defined as the act of networking with people around us – people unlike us in some way – is one of the best definitions I have ever heard. If we all could strive to build our network with people with different lives than ours, we wouldn’t have to intentionally focus on building diversity – because we would have it.
Stretching our worldview to include the people and things we are not normally exposed to is our only chance, our only hope, to continue the legacy begun by trailblazers like Mr. Shed.
De facto segregation cannot continue, and the only way to stop it is to consciously strengthen our diversity network, moving outside our comfort zones to learn how special the world can be with the gift of an expanded perspective. It is how we, along with Mr. Shed, can keep paving a road to true equality and inclusion – a road to glory.
Jake Blumberg is a senior technical journalism major. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.