Any kind of conference that attempts to preach or inform on moral issues tends to provoke a degree of cynicism from students. As the freshman class recovered from Hurricane Irene and grew exhausted with NSO’s enthusiastic onslaught of activities, many felt a general reluctance to attend anything structured that was designed for our own good. However, like all of the NSO activities, many students would initially complain that they wanted something ‘truer’ to Georgetown college life, something less synthetic, but found after attending that the events actually have a lot to offer. Most of us ended up have a great time at the NSO events regardless of how much we pretended to drag our feet. The Pluralism in Action program was no exception.
The bulk of the conference was formed from a compilation of excerpts from admissions essays written by students in the freshman class. These excerpts were mostly personal stories that described the experiences, struggles and successes of students prior to their entrance into the university. The authors of every word read were anonymously present.
The conference opened by making a distinction that I found would be true for many students but did not detract from the value of the entire experience: “Many of you will not relate to any of these stories.” One of the first speakers made a point to define himself as belonging to an affluent, privileged family. This fact was true for many, but completely irrelevant. The effect of the narratives was not diminished even slightly by a listener’s lack of congruent experience.
The content of the conference truly lived up to its title. The term ‘diversity’ often used to describe the theme for these kinds of dialogues has, I believe, the unfortunate tendency to refer exclusively to race and ethnicity. At the Pluralism in Action conference, however, differences in not only color and ethnicity, but also creed, nationality, economic background, political and social climate, sexual orientation, physical composition and gender were addressed. A display of the plurality of experiential backgrounds among the entering students was the key idea. The focus of the program was far more representative of what diversity truly means.
Without intending to diminish the emphasis on the importance of a racially diverse student body, I must confess that I find racial diversity important because it indicates a diversity of experience and knowledge. I have found that issues of ethnicity and race are always sore subjects for many incoming college students, especially with regard to the admissions process. I have spoken to individuals who feel that race and ethnicity serve to unfairly discriminate against ethnic majority students and to others who feel a kind of guilt as a result of their minority status. I thought that the conference worked powerfully against these counterproductive stigmas. It demonstrated how our diversity is not only skin deep, but really a product of diverse individual experiences, skills, struggles and passions. Race and ethnicity are indicators of a different perspective but are ultimately only as meaningful as the lives the people have lived as a person of race. We are all people of race.
After hearing the speakers in the McDonough Arena, the class broke into its orientation groups to discuss the stories they had just heard. A focus for the discussion groups was how pluralism affects the Georgetown community and each student as an individual. While individuals found it difficult to confess to a collection of strangers the ways in which they related to the stories they had just heard, I felt a strong sense of appreciation for the value of pluralism. The stories read at the conference were very personal and any apparent attempt to identify with the events described would have been in poor taste if too mild in comparison or extremely uncomfortable if too intimate. The majority of people skated on generalizations.
But despite most people’s conservative expression, we all felt a certain commonality in that we are all different. We each have a different story to tell though we may not have told it then and there. Though we may not all have risen out of crippling poverty, lived under an oppressive foreign regime or struggled with our own sexual orientation, we all have a struggle. I felt that Pluralism in Action was extremely valuable in bringing to light the value of our diverse community in a way that is not discriminatory. It taught me that while we are all different, we are also all the same.
Nicholas Nathan is a freshman in the College.