First and foremost, I am not writing this article to in any way lessen or demean the plethora of negative feelings that have resulted from the Cousins incident. It was an event that affected the whole Richmond community and one that shouldn't have happened. I reach out with sympathy to those hurt by it.
However, a positive result of such a horrific event is an open communication about diversity and a renewed desire to determine how our community wishes to be defined. Making lemonade out of lemons, if you will, I wish to take this time of open dialogue to see if I can find anyone who agrees with me.
I love this school, and there are amazing people here that I am so grateful for having met. But at the same time, one of the flaws I see in this campus — in its student body and in its administration — is its narrow definition of diversity and a lack of ability to be inclusive.
Diversity is not just about your skin tone, or your ethnicity, or your sexuality or religion. Diversity is about your experiences, your interests, your opinions and your character. It is as wrong to assume that someone who appears to "fit in," does, just as it is wrong to assume ethnicity makes someone fit a stereotype. In some ways, being "inherently" different, if you will, is perhaps more difficult than being "noticeably different." Allow me to explain why.
If you are being discriminated against based on a visible quality — whether it is skin tone, sexual preference or religious practice — you can more readily find others that will be judged based on that same characteristic. Not because that makes you "all the same," but because a shared trait will be the basis for that negative treatment in the eyes of someone who is unappreciative of said trait. If you only feel the "difference," how are you to find others "like you?" It is not visible. Labels hurt; they hinder our ability to accept others and limit appreciation for individual characteristics. I am going to put myself out there, not because I think you are so excited to hear about me, but because I know of no better way to illustrate my point.
If I bore you, I apologize.
Here I am in a nutshell: On the surface, you would be right to label me a white, middle-class female. That does not mean I "fit in." The thing I have learned about myself at college is that I am deeply committed to breaking out of labels. With an exception of the aforementioned traits, you couldn't find a label that completely describes me. I vote Republican. I am a pagan. I have 11 ear piercings, and two tattoos. My tattoos in and of themselves are dedicated to reminding me not to label people. I have repeatedly dyed my hair colors not naturally found on a head. I listen to bands that you've never heard of.
I am one of four (maybe five) Anthropology majors here. I'll be in Transylvania for three weeks this summer (three points to the person who can tell me something about Transylvania that doesn't deal with vampires). I dressed Gothic in high school. On campus last year, I tried to continue that, and was put into place by remarks, stares and attitudes of people. I went home that fall break and used my credit card to buy new clothes to "fit in."
It was such hurtful exclusion that made me want to be a freshmen resident assistant, to reach out to those who were also "the Other," for whatever reason this campus chose to make them "the Other." Of the people whom I loved most last year, half left, because they also were "the Other." It is in light of being an "Other" inside that I reach out to those who are also labeled as "Others." I want to draw together those on campus who feel excluded; together, sharing in our exclusion, we can be more inclusive. I don't want it to take a hurtful or prejudiced event, aimed at perhaps another "Other," to draw attention to the negative feelings that are experienced daily.
And excuse the circular logic, but if there is more inclusion on this campus, than there is less exclusion, which means there is less hurt. At the end of the day, isn't that what should define Richmond?
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