The Gray Area: Discussing Centre’s Diversity


By Gray WhitsettColumnist

Here at Centre College we talk a lot about our accomplishments. We brag, and rightfully so, about our stellar study abroad program. We tout our remarkably low student-to-professor ratio. We praise the accolades of our faculty and students, boast of our admirable “value of education” ranking, and assert our impressive retention rate.

Centre has much to be proud of, and, as I continue my education at this college, I fall more and more in love with it.

I bought into it the first week I was here and I have immense pride in our institution. I drink the Kool-Aid. I’m on the street corner selling the stuff to passersby.

But there is one unachieved accomplishment for which I hear the Centre population take credit often: our diversity. To this, I have to respectfully disagree.

When we say the word diversity, we can mean many different things, and I don’t want to shortchange the multiplicity of definitions this word can have. By and large, however, we mean it in one way — a diverse representation of ethnicities and racial backgrounds.

I think this is a relatively fair understanding of the word, though by no means is it exhaustive.

Because of this, diversity is in no way limited to ethnic or racial identity. What I’m asserting is that when we use this word within the context of promoting our college, we know the connotation diversity implies and accept the positive response it garners.

What I’m also asserting is that we shouldn’t.

To begin, let’s be real for a moment. We go to a school in which, according to Centre’s own data, the combined non-white population totals 17.3% (using an approximated enrollment of 1380, that equals about 239 students).

The highest individual non-white population is black, totaling 4.7% (about 66 students). In all, the campus is 82.7% white.

You’ll forgive me, but I just don’t believe that qualifies for an ethnically diverse campus community.

It doesn’t mean that campus doesn’t benefit from that 17.3%.

Quite the contrary, I think it’s a huge boon to our campus outlook. It also doesn’t devalue their ethnic identity, if that’s how the individual chooses to identify.

It just doesn’t give the campus the right to claim diversity as a quality of the college or use wording that implies the same.

And therein lies my contention — we as a campus have deluded ourselves into believing that we genuinely represent a racially and ethnically diverse community.

We simply don’t.

This wasn’t done maliciously. I don’t mean that the administration spreads lies or deliberately deals in misinformation. But collectively we’ve convinced ourselves of having attained a goal that we may want but don’t have.

We aren’t a racist campus. We don’t reject diversity. In fact, I would argue that we value it highly and encourage it.

But if we genuinely endeavor to have as diverse of a campus as possible, we need to dispel this idea that we draw from a variety of colors and cultures.

Not only is it simply not true, but by making fiction of a fact we diminish the drive and motivation to actually realize our dreams of diversity.

Furthermore, and I may be making a claim I have no business making, but I can’t imagine that the non-white individuals on campus appreciate the highly misleading assertions that we’re a rainbow of races.

Applicants who are sold this illusion of Centre are surely disappointed when the breadbasket of backgrounds isn’t a distinction between Hispanic or Asian, but Lexingtonian or Louisvillian.

Now, to be fair, Centre has taken some measures to encourage diverse applicants. Programs like Posse and the growing international student program are excellent measures that have been taken.

I know that in a recent address to the campus community, President Roush made clear his intentions of increasing Hispanic and Latino recruitment.

If diversity is a priority for this college, then those are moves in the right direction, and credit is deserved where credit is due.

But these small steps should not be mistaken for tangible success. We still have a lot of work ahead of us as a college if a truly diverse population is a goal toward which we strive.


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