What type of diversity do you celebrate?

Diversity is one of those topics that we consider important and that we are quick to celebrate. The reality, however, is that we do not speak of it as often as we should.

The definition and ways to measure this concept are not often clear. Some think of diversity as a code word for tolerance or a statistic regarding race, ethnicity or gender. As a Latina, first-generation immigrant (undocumented at one point), who started learning English at the age of 12, and as a first-generation college student from a disadvantaged economic background, my understanding of diversity has never been static or simple. 

People have been quick to define my diversity in terms of my accent or place of origin. Having to explain where I come from is a small part of what diversity has come to signify to me. Yes, this concept embraces and celebrates the beauty and complexities of human differences, including my accent. Diversity, however, also requires action and agency. To successfully speak of diversity, whether it is on campus, in the workforce or in our society, we need active engagement and ongoing conversations about those multidimensional differences that we so passionately want to celebrate. We need to ask difficult questions in regard to power and privilege. We need to be willing to listen and collaborate to address issues of exclusion and inequality.

I consider myself blessed to be part of an institution where students, staff, and faculty celebrate diversity but do not shy away from asking the difficult questions. Statistics point to positive changes and progress that we continue to make at Stritch. The other story, the one that I am more familiar with, takes place in the classrooms, hallways, workshops, extracurricular activities and experiential learning opportunities. Here at Stritch, students from different cultures and social backgrounds, from places all over the world, have the opportunity to share their unique perspectives and learn from each other in a safe and respectful environment. Each student provides a distinctive lens from which to view the world. Together, students learn to understand and solve problems in different ways.

When diversity is based on numbers, one can easily ignore the fact that students can attend the same university and only interact with students from similar backgrounds. At Stritch, I work with students who choose to join and actively participate in cultural organizations that differ from their own. This semester, I am teaching a Spanish civilization course to a diverse group of students who are African American, Caucasian, Spanish heritage speakers, athletes and international students from Mexico, Denmark, and Chile, all while teaching in Spanish—a language that many of them have chosen to study to interact with people from other cultures. I often find myself preparing lesson plans that incorporate topics around the diversity of my students and not just my own. As a professor, I find the diversity of my students intellectually stimulating and welcome this positive challenge.

Integration, beneficial interaction, and collaboration best define our university’s vision of diversity. Stritch embraces diversity and lives its Franciscan values by giving students from all backgrounds the opportunity and the tools to earn an education.

At the same time, the diversity of our student body fosters an environment conducive to learning and to critical thinking. Our students do not need to wait to graduate to gain the abilities to communicate, understand, and engage effectively in multicultural environments. Most importantly, we are nurturing a community of effective and compassionate leaders who will be able to develop positive and long-lasting relationships with others. To me, that is a good definition of diversity and one that we should celebrate in addition to numbers!

Marilyn Jones is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at Cardinal Stritch University. She earned her master’s degree in contemporary Latin American literature and bachelor’s degrees in sociology and Spanish literature from Marquette University. She currently is completing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her teaching and research interests include the Black diaspora, construction and articulation of Black identity in Central America, representations of outsider or marginalized subjects in literature, contemporary women writers and issues of gender. Her commitment and passion for literature, the arts, and the Hispanic and U.S. Latino cultures goes beyond her teaching and responsibilities as a professor. She is proud to serve as the adviser for the Hispanic Club and the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee student chapter at Stritch.