Recently, the Oregon State University Office of Community & Diversity held a diversity essay contest. 5 essays were chosen and then voted upon by the OSU community. I read all five of the essays. At the time, I felt that only one of the essays expressed a non-propagandized view on diversity at OSU. It turns out that that essay would be the eventual winner. Written by Matthew Holland, an English major, the winning essay focuses on OSU’s Difference, Power, and Discrimination curriculum and how it impacts OSU students. While Matthew’s essay was certainly important in its message, I was moved by an essay by a first-year student. Holland is a fifth year student, presumably in or nearing his senior year, and I would expect a well-written essay given his program of study and exposure to a class like the Ethics of Diversity. However, the essay that I have posted below, was written by a first-year student who directly experiences what a lack of diversity at OSU can mean to a student. I had the privilege of reading Israel Salgado’s essay and asked him if I could post it on my blog. Israel’s essay provides insight into his experience and what can be done to make OSU a more diverse institution.
Diversity at OSU — Guest essay by Israel Salgado
The word “diversity” has multiple meanings to different individuals. It can mean: ethnicity, race, culture, sexuality, gender, social class, language and/or, disabilities. Though Oregon State University has made successful choices in trying to diversify its campus and community, it can still move forward in its goal of becoming “a destination of choice for people interested in diversity” by having more diversified staff, intercultural awareness events not only in the cultural centers but in the residence halls, and offering more baccalaureate core courses in this subject.
I come from Woodburn, Oregon a town just an hour away going north on the I-5. It’s a very diverse place with a population of 21,560 people where you just have to walk down the street before you can see individuals from different ethnic backgrounds. However, when I came to Oregon State University back in September to start my college education, I experienced a cultural shock. Though I have done my entire education with Caucasian students, I felt like I went from one country to another in less than an hour. During the first week of fall term, and sometime after that, I felt intimated and out of place here. I believe that every diverse student that comes here has or will feel the same feelings at one point in their life at Oregon State University.
Judith Ortiz Cofer said in her essay The Myth of the Latin Woman “You can leave the Island, master the English Language, and travel as far as you can, but if you are Latina, the Island travels with you”. (Cofer, pg 15) Meaning that you can move as many times as you want and go where ever you want, but everything that makes you who you are will follow you. You will always be different. You will not be average, but unique every time.
One experience that has happened to me over and over again is when I go to an office or an information desk. The person on the other side looks at me and at my name, and then asks me “what are you?” Then, they try to guess if I’m Israeli because of my first name. Then they see my last name, and think either I’m from Spain or somewhere in Latin America.
In the end I answer their questions out of courtesy by responding that I’m Mexican and come from Guerrero, Mexico a town not too far from the coast. The important point in this experience I give is that if the community here in campus could be more knowledgeable and understanding of diverse students this annoying situation wouldn’t happened. Individuals here wouldn’t ask questions like, “What’s your religion?”, and “Do you understand English?”, and they wouldn’t guess your birth origin like it was a mystery. Therefore, if the campus community could better understand the point of views and concerns of diverse students just wanting to be another student, they would consider how their questions may offend and instead would try to be welcoming.
One way that Oregon State University can concentrate on this issue is by having more diverse instructors and staff in the departments all over campus, meaning not only in ethnicity or race, but in experience, diverse sexuality, and cultures. Another way is to create intercultural events in the residence halls to promote that every culture may be different, but they still have the same beliefs. It is important to experience how each culture has something fascinating that students may connect to. Last is to create courses for students which would serve like the intercultural events to promote awareness. Not by an instructor teaching with lectures, but having the students recognize diversity through familiarity. Doing these things would help OSU achieve its goal of becoming “a destination of choice for people interested in diversity”.
1) Ortiz Cofer, Judith. “The Myth of the Latin Woman.” Readings for OSU Writers Third Edition. Ed. Ruthe Thompson. 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2008. 15-20.
The most impactful quote that I have ever heard about diversity comes from Angela Davis – “Diversity is difference that doesn’t make a difference.”
Without social justice oriented, anti-oppression oriented, anti-racist oriented educational efforts, diversity cannot affect change amongst members of the dominant paradigm.