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Failing diversity

Princeton’s commitment to diversity is clear. Our new class has been bombarded with statistics to make the policy and its results obvious. Fifty-nine percent of us receive financial aid. From New Zealand to New Jersey, we are from 46 countries. We tick almost every conceivable box: race, creed, color, sexual orientation, religious and political affiliation. The list goes on. This policy is admirable. But, simply, it’s not that simple.

The University should continue to welcome students from every corner of the world, from every background and with every set of values. However, the administration should beware of shiny statistics and those ticked boxes. Numbers are one thing, reality another. Without real integration, “diversity” will result in a shallow pretense of unity. Change in people’s attitudes, preconceptions and actions is what will distinguish a truly modern institution from one that lingers in the past. To aim at diversity is not only to aim at the celebration of difference but also to strive for the practice of integration and tolerance.

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The current pursuit of “diversity” does some work. That cannot be denied. Dorms shared by a random collection of minds that know different pasts and by faces that belong to different strands of humanity can teach and allow us to integrate. A glance around any dining hall shows that these groupings result in true, honest and meaningful friendships. Randomness forces us to integrate, and it works.

We must, however, take care. The hands of the University’s administration have woven a modern, liberal campus and tried hard to welcome new patterns into the institution’s existing tapestry. Often this brave, progressive attitude results in exactly what its designers hope for. But I have doubts about some of its products. I fear that by artificially constructing a “diverse” community without care, we may instead diminish what we have and fail to achieve what we want.

A plethora of on-campus groupings, for example, cater to every cultural need; yet perhaps these constructs do more to socially divide than unite us. It’s easy for some parts of the University population to be willingly excluded from organizations they don’t readily relate to, and thus fail to ever understand, and sympathize with, those groupings’ different beliefs. It may not be particularly important for the Quidditch team to interact with the flute ensemble, but perhaps the College Republicans might meet their Democrat friends, or the South Asian Students Association host an event with the Black Student Union. Maybe more available and emphasized cross-community funding might cause Princeton’s Armenian Student Association to seek out the on-campus Latter-day Saints. Sure, when these groups celebrate their diversity alone, Princeton’s reputation is enhanced, but diversity alone might as well be no diversity at all. A blind pursuit of diversity groups similar people together, encourages separation and will do no good for the University. We need to integrate, not stagnate in too-well-defined social cliques.

But integration is not easy. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the population is overwhelmingly white. It is overwhelmingly Christian. Even without the complication of extensive “diversity”, we are famously and violently divided. Recently, schools have followed a policy of integration between students of both sides. Headmasters have put young Roman Catholics and Protestants under the same roofs to encourage this uniquely Northern-Irish attempt at “diversity.” Nonetheless, gates are only now being slowly opened in the high “peace walls” that physically divide the city’s most fervent sectarian groupings. The policies are working, but they take time. At this university, where most students spend only four years collecting their undergraduate degrees, time is not a luxury we have. We are lucky to live in so numerically diverse a society, but we are not here for long; we must be careful not to stunt our potential for progression with accidental separation or misguided attempts to encourage variety. In Northern Ireland, society is arguably much less diverse than it is here; still, it takes decades to see tangible change in attitudes and opinions. With limited time, this university must realize that a powerful, proactive approach is needed to begin the integration of all its disparate communities.

If we want to honor our statistical diversity with worthwhile results, we need change. We need to continue our pursuit of diverse histories, presents and futures; but we also need to spread our varied messages, not isolate them. While maintaining the strength of the organizations that already exist, we must also increase our focus on cooperation among them, and among all other parts of our community.

At Princeton, we have just four years. In that time, the University should not force us to integrate, but it should do much more to encourage it. We should not destroy our great love of diversity with words, numbers and accidental separation, but take time, integrate and begin to understand.

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Philip Mooney is a freshman from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He can be reached at pmooney@princeton.edu.

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