Oh, But We Are

Are you diverse enough for UC Berkeley? Paul will evaluate you at [email protected].

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Berkeley is the last place one from outside its boundaries would expect to find any sort of fad. Clearly, what's being sold at the Abercrombie & Fitches of the world and what's being played on Total Request Live doesn't prevail as much as it would at universities like UCLA or USC. In that regard, kudos to us.

Yet fads do rear their ugly heads here at UC Berkeley in some strange ways, even if the proliferation of pop culture is not their goal. In accordance with Berkeley tradition, fads here tend to center around political culture, or they're at least topical in nature.

Take these examples: Before my freshman year, Christian students wore orange shirts, proclaiming they "Agree with Paul," some guy who published material advocating Christian beliefs.

Not too long ago, the "Free Mumia" fad died out, even though Mumia wasn't freed from prison; his sentence was commuted to life without parole. Nevertheless, bumper stickers and T-shirts advocating his freedom are seldom seen now unless you happen to stumble onto a protest where it's encouraged to wave any leftist flag regardless of its relevance.

Now Berkeley is privileged enough to be the caretaker of the "I care about diversity" fad. Surely you've been more than exposed to its proliferation. Ever heard or actually uttered the phrases "We need to celebrate diversity" or "Diversity is education in itself"? Rhetorically, they sure sound good, and often they're taken as givens in conversations around Berkeley.

This fad briefly manifested itself in fashion last week, as ash-colored T-shirts with "Diversity?" printed on the front-most likely intending to question the university's claim that its student body is a hallmark of diversity among the country's institutions of higher learning-were worn by enough students to attract attention to the claim that UC Berkeley is not diverse (as if that claim needs more attention).

And that is arguably the greatest danger behind the pop diversity culture: the claim that UC Berkeley's student body is not diverse.

Such a claim is a collective slap in the face to a large portion of UC Berkeley students, including myself, who are being told that they essentially do not contribute to the free exchange of ideas only because they are not from backgrounds such as black, Latino or Native American.

Yes, it is popular among a good-sized handful of UC Berkeley students to have us believe that the university has lost its diversity. But the greatest problem in that claim, aside from its disrespect of the student body, is its contraction of the implications of what diversity is.

Where in the definition of diversity does it limit its application to ethnic identity? Nowhere. That's right. The definition of diversity can in almost no way be construed to exclude every other form of variety aside from cultural and ethnic identity. So where does this leave us?

It takes us back to the disputed claim that UC Berkeley is diverse. Consider these UC Berkeley characteristics that qualify the claim that the student body is diverse: The university offers over 100 academic fields to meet the diverse academic interests of the student body; hundreds of ASUC-sponsored student groups are available to meet the diverse extracurricular interests of the student body; students on Sproul are constantly engaged in political debate and other social exchange, making the diversity of opinions so blatantly obvious that you can't miss it when innocently walking to Wheeler.

The only problem with these forms of diversity is that they are not inherent in skin color or ethnic identity. Hence, they do not appeal to the popular view of diversity, which says that ethnic diversity is the only true diversity.

The claim that UC Berkeley is not diverse can be construed as being racist in itself. How does one's skin color uniquely determine that a person will contribute to the diversity of UC Berkeley? Believing in such an idea only takes us back to the Jim Crow ideas that race and ethnic identity inherently determine how one will behave in society.

In answer to the question on the T-shirts, "Diversity?" I wish I could go and pencil in "Yes!"


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