What does Diversity and Multiculturalism mean to me? I believe that diversity has become so much more than just the basic qualities of race or gender. It now includes all qualities that make everyone unique, as individuals or as part of a larger group. It is also the acceptance, respect, and understanding of these unique qualities that makes diversity work in a given society. Multiculturalism is the system that is centered around the respect for and the promotion of ethnic and or gender diversity in the society.
Multiculturalism is the status of several different ethnic, racial, religious or cultural groups co-existing in the same society. Today, in the U. S. we already live in a diverse, multicultural world, where popular culture has introduced us to others’ foods, music, histories, customs, and more. Moreover, the predictions that a multiplicity of infusions from culture to culture will continue unabated – and that we must develop a respect for others if we are to be active, engaged participants in the new world order (Green, 1998). These are the formal explanations and definitions of diversity and multiculturalism.
What does these two terms mean to me? I believe that diversity is learning from others that aren’t the same as me and being able to pass down what I’ve learned and experienced to my children. I want my children to know that there is richness in learning the beliefs, customs, and histories of other cultures. That being different in someone else’s eyes isn’t all the time a bad thing. I have expressed to them many times that as the world continues to expand globally, you are going to have to learn with, work with, and get along with people with different backgrounds and beliefs.
They will be exposed to more cultures, personalities, talents, customs, religions, races, ethnicities; attitudes and opinions than I at there age. They started their experiences with different cultures while in middle school. My first culture experience was as a freshman in college. But of course, my kids were not born in a small town. They were born on Air Force bases. In just about every small town and most medium to large cities, there is a “black” part or section of town. I grew up in a very small town but the part of town I lived in was very big to me. Everyone had the same ideals, beliefs, and expectations.
We all knew each other very well. We went to the same church, played in the same park, ate the same type of food, and we listened to the same music. There were no unique individuals, no one really stood out. My town had harmony; a feeling of well being – for lack of a better word. I did not realize that I lived in a culture that had very little diversity. I knew that there were people out side my little world who spoke a different language, dressed different, and ate strange food. But it never occurred to me that I would ever meet anyone very different from me in every way.
During the late seventies, when Carter was president, a lot of the restrictions were lifted on student loans. This made it easy for low income families to send their children to college. I quit my factory job and off I went to college. I chose a college as far away from home as I could – a whole three and a half hour drive away. That is pretty far for someone who has never been more than an hour from home for more than two days. On the first day, during registration, I realized that a whole new world opened up right in front of me.
I experienced so many different types of people and so many new cultures; just in that one day. I didn’t know what to think but I knew that this was going to be great. It didn’t take me long to start appreciating those unique differences. My first roommate was white and he was from Boston. He was at school on a rifle scholarship. He was on the college rifle team and at the time he was ranked nineteenth in the nation. He was a junior and had a lot of friends. One day I was left alone in the room with one of his friends. He asked me how I liked rooming with a Jew.
I didn’t answer the question because I didn’t have one and he knew it. Later I asked my roommate if he was in fact Jewish. He told me he was and asked me did I have a problem with it. I told him that I didn’t and that I had never met anyone who was Jewish. At the time I didn’t even know anything about the Jewish religion. We became close friends and still keep in touch. I get a birthday card from him every year and a Christmas card. I think it is funny that he would send me a Christmas card. Maybe he does too. For a long time I wondered why his friend would ask me such a question.
After a couple of years of college I was eager to move on to something different. I had a chance to wipe out my college loans and serve my country. I joined the Air Force at the age of twenty-four. My first duty station was Germany. I embraced the opportunity to experience this new world with its rich history, solid culture, and beliefs. It was fun and challenging at the same time. I spent a lot of time in the general population of the near by town. Actually, I think I ended up learning more from those experiences than I did from any class I attended.
I visited other near by countries such as Luxemburg, Belgium, France, and Demark. Each country had a rich history and a very diverse population. That learned appreciation for diversity shaped my future in a positive way, not only personally, but professionally as well. I spent a total of six years stationed in Germany. I wouldn’t trade one single minute of it for a year’s pay. I believe that my children have embraced their differences and have learned to respect the differences of others across racial and ethnic lines.
Both of my daughters have friends of different races, genders, and class levels. My daughter that is still in high school has a friend that is openly gay. I found that to be a little odd for this area of North Carolina. Diversity education and the development of respect for others across racial and ethnic lines will help our children in general become less accepting of stereotyped representations in the media, and more responsive to the broad spectrum of storylines that may be developed from experiences of those of other cultures (Hill, 1991).
Diversity and multiculturalism will help guide our children into a better future. They will not have to endure the all negative experiences that their parents and grandparents did because of their race or social class. Some believe that this diversity of people – with their cultures – enriches society, whereas some others hold the opposite view: that the United States and its system of higher education are diminished when “others” are embraced.
These people seek to maintain the status quo or return to the way things were in a bygone era (Dates & Stroman, 1999). I believe in order for our children to be successful, they must understand how all of those qualities that make them unique, affect their motivation, communication, and performance as they go out into the workforce. When it does, it will benefit them in better communication and teamwork, enhanced morale, and a higher level of creativity.