Robert Hsu | Diversifying our definitions
The Casual Observer | True diversity goes beyond what meets the eye
December 9, 2011, 2:31 am · Updated December 12, 2011, 12:44 am·
The Casual Observer
Cady Heron from Mean Girls once said, “I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there’s lots of things that can be wrong on your body.”
In some ways, I was just like Cady Heron when I came to college. Don’t worry, I wasn’t judging all of you based upon your body types, but I had a very one-dimensional view of what diversity means.
It’s the D-word we hear across campus nearly every day. We’re told that diversity is important to create a successful society, form a more global perspective and accept different types of people.
A body of people is deemed “diverse” if everyone doesn’t look the same. It seems like diversity stops at the surface, both literally and figuratively, all too often.
Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate having a more racially diverse learning community at Penn after growing up in a homogenous community — but sometimes I wonder if we as a society have lost our true understanding of diversity and exchanged it for something used primarily to polish the surface of any group, organization or institution.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines diversity as “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: variety; especially: the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”
After coming to college and meeting classmates that are described as “diverse,” I would have to disagree with this definition.
Associating the D-word with race and culture only does diversity a disservice. It turns the word into a superficial status symbol that calls us to accept various races and cultures. But could this symbol dilute its true meaning?
Before coming to Penn, I was ingrained with the idea that bright, hard-working individuals would lead perfect lives. Their straight-A’s would extend to having tidy dorm rooms and a perfect circle of friends.
While some of this has held true, the majority of it has not. I was certainly naïve, but my shattered expectations have helped challenge how I think about diversity.
Here, I’ve met some people who skip every lecture yet manage to ace all of their tests. I’ve also met others who know more languages than the number of fingers on my right hand. I’ve also been stunned by classmates who can solve complex genetics problems in their head in a mere matter of minutes.
This has helped me realize that there isn’t just one way to be intelligent, but there’s a diverse range of ways to be smart.
If you look around, you will see thousands of students with their own version of why Penn chose them. Our admission to Penn indicates that we have achieved success to an extent. The fact that we were all accepted with diverse stories shows that there is a diversity of paths to success.
Here I met Andy, who invented a unique device for the blind that can be worn around their necks. Manasvi, who started an organization to raise awareness of bone marrow transplants and Anna, who started a ballet company for her high school.
This is the type of diversity we frequently forget — the kind found beneath our skin. Diversity is multi-dimensional, and we overlook the fact that it encompasses all aspects of our lives, including our religion, socioeconomic status, intelligence, hobbies and interests.
So what exactly is diversity? I don’t have a perfect definition, but I can tell you that I have realized what diversity does. Diversity should not be a label to make us seem more accepting or cosmopolitan.
Rather, diversity should defy the labels we are confronted with every day and make us realize that there isn’t just one way to contribute to society. It should make us marvel at the myriad of things that the human race is capable of achieving.
My name is Robert Hsu. I don’t want to add to Penn’s diversity by being Asian. I want to add to it with my thoughts, unique beliefs and passions.
Robert Hsu, a College and Wharton freshman from Novi, Mich., is a Civic Scholar. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Casual Observer appears every other Friday.