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Is Wash. U. segregated?
In the elections just before spring break, nearly three-fourths of voting students approved the creation of the Diversity Affairs Council as a way to organize and administer diversity initiatives at Wash. U. To be honest, I had and continue to have doubts about the DAC, partly because of doubts that the council can be effective in influencing University policy regarding admissions and faculty hiring (I hope I’m proven wrong).
But what most troubles me about the DAC is its explicit goal: diversity. Diversity is certainly an admirable aim; without a society’s appreciation for diversity, I, a racial and religious minority, wouldn’t have nearly as many opportunities as I do now. Yet I wonder if the real issue on campus is segregation—that is, self-segregation. Should we be sanctioning not a DAC but a SSAC?
Please don’t misinterpret me: Wash. U. could use more diversity. I’d personally like to see greater diversity in race and religion, and I commend the efforts of WU/FUSED to make socioeconomic diversity a priority. But if Wash. U. becomes a perfectly diverse university whose students nevertheless sequester themselves into various exclusive groups, can we really claim success? As we press forward with the issue of diversity, we should simultaneously tackle self-segregation. One without the other leaves something to be desired.
It seems to me that our student body—and American society as a whole—clusters into independent groups. I know I am guilty of hanging out mostly with friends from my freshman floor. Others associate mostly or exclusively with, for example, members of their extracurriculars or of their fraternity or sorority. I’m willing to claim Wash. U. students segregate themselves on the basis of race and religion as well. I admit not having the statistics to prove this claim, but when you have a moment, think about the people with whom you spend the most time. Look around the DUC or watch a passing group of friends and notice the similarities and differences at each table.
I freely acknowledge that I am decrying more than self-segregation. I am challenging an aspect of our inner natures, an unconscious drive to associate with the people who look like us, talk like us and act like us. Humans feel most safe and most comfortable with familiar people, people who enjoy the same interests and customs. In the end, self-segregation’s main explanation—which I would argue is also its main problem—is that we stick to our comfort zones. We develop our personal communities, be they freshman floors, fraternities or sororities, etc., which inevitably distract us from the broader Wash. U. community.
To go beyond this, we students need to challenge our comfort zones and broaden their boundaries. In the past, Connect 4 has hosted events promoting dialogue on self-segregation, which I applaud, yet a stronger stimulus is needed to move beyond complacency. I would argue that the Mothers bar incident was an example of that stimulus, albeit an unfortunate and unnecessary one. The student body’s response to the episode was admirable, because we broke down our self-constructed barriers and came together for a reason. We were no longer freshmen or seniors, Jewish or Christian or atheist, Greek or non-Greek, black or white or whatever. We were Wash. U. students, united in our outrage.
I don’t advocate that we eliminate student groups or other divisions; Wash. U. is far too big for every student to develop a personal, meaningful relationship with everyone else on campus. Also, one needs these ways of refining one’s identity. I advocate, however, that Wash. U. fosters a more fluid social dynamic, so that interactions among students of different backgrounds and interests are more prevalent and less awkward. What I hope for is a campus that has been stimulated beyond individual comfort zones, one that is not only more diverse but also less self-segregated.
Cyrus is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.