Rachel del Valle | Updating the status quo
Duly Noted | The experiences of people who are not like your are part of what makes a Penn education great
February 19, 2013, 12:25 am·
Rachel del Valle
There’s been a lot of talk about diversity at Penn lately. And amidst all the outrage and opinions and complaining, it seems that the need for diversity has been forgotten.
You may be rolling your eyes, thinking, “Another one of these?” Yes, another one of these.
There’s a sense that we live in a post-prejudice society and we don’t need measures like affirmative action anymore. To suggest this idea is to assume that equal opportunities are afforded to everyone. There is a systemic problem that exacerbates these inequities, but that doesn’t mean that Penn should remove itself from the equation of progress simply because it’s at the top.
I came to Penn to be educated holistically — by my teachers, my peers and the medley of experiences that make them who they are. I can’t imagine being a student if everyone looked the same and acted the same and operated within a strict social structure. I wouldn’t want to be here, and I wouldn’t feel welcome.
Just because a school like Penn has traditionally been populated by upper-middle class students and faculty doesn’t mean we should maintain the status quo. If Penn abandons its goal to collect an economically, socially and racially diverse community, who would want to go here? Not me.
Similarly, just because the history of the western world has been the main focus of study for decades doesn’t mean it should stay that way. Departments like Latin American Studies, Africana Studies, Jewish Studies and Asian Studies are part of what higher learning should be in the 21st century.
But today, instead of shifting education to match the new century, people point to the status quo as an argument to preserve it. But to suggest, for example, that there is a dearth of qualified minority candidates for administrative positions at Penn is evidence itself that the system is broken. And for now, there is only an imperfect means — affirmative action — that can fix it.
Maybe there is a smaller pool of skilled minorities to choose from (and that alone suggests we’re not in a post-racial society), but that doesn’t mean that its members are any less educated. And it doesn’t mean that they’ve had a smooth path to where they are today.
It also doesn’t mean that they’re the most qualified person for that job or admissions slot. I realize that. But as long as we keep filling the same positions with the same demographic, we will be stuck.
People like myself, the children of immigrants who attend schools like Penn, are lucky, just like anyone else admitted to an Ivy League school is. But we’re also hardworking and smart and dynamic. It’s disheartening to know that some think we’re only here because of our exotic-sounding last names and skin colors. It’s even more disappointing to hear people voice such racist opinions in a casual way.
Minorities and low-income students don’t need to be “saved” — they simply deserve to be viewed within their context. It’s their experiences that they bring to Penn, after all, that enriches the community. This isn’t tokenism — it’s what keeps things interesting.
If you don’t value the perspective of people who are different from you, than maybe diversity isn’t important to you. And that’s fine. Narrow-minded and sad, but fine. But most people want to know about the experiences of those around them — to belittle that curiosity is unnecessary.
It’s been suggested that there’s a limited employability in pursuing a major such as urban studies. But not all of us earn degrees in order to have high-paying jobs. Some of us do it because we like to learn, and because we think the more we know, the better we’ll be able to contribute to our society.
Really, the only solution to the lack of diversity in higher education is education reform that begins in childhood. And that’s the kind of job that, say, an urban studies major can pursue.
Rachel del Valle is a College junior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.