Elon University students who will remain on campus for Winter Term will trudge through the cold to their morning or afternoon class Jan. 4-22. Class takes up three hours of each day — the remaining 21 hours are up to students to fill. But the Elon administration has some specific suggestions for what students can do with that time: learn about diversity.
Learning about diversity is an admirable goal, and educating students about diversity is one of Elon’s most important and valuable efforts. That said, there are other ways of educating students that are more impactful and more effective in promoting diversity and inclusivity on campus.
For the fourth year in a row, Winter Term is diversity-themed. Administrators have planned a long list of diversity-related events to fill those free hours. Many courses are diversity-themed, and a range of speakers will come to campus to discuss themes such as harassment, intercultural competence, social justice and inclusivity.
The previous three years of diversity-themed Winter Terms included similar events and classes.
It’s repetitive, and that’s hurting the positive message the themed Winter Term is trying to send.
Diversity is multifaceted and complex. Making Winter Term diversity-themed and then covering all areas of diversity under it is unfocused and broad. Sure, it allows for a range of speakers and events, but it can be repetitive when used year after year.
There’s plenty to say for the benefits of repetition, but continuing to emphasize all kinds of diversity without pinpointing a specific area isn’t as effective as it could be. By repeating the token phrase — “diversity” — Elon makes it background noise, something students who already have plenty of practice tuning information out can easily ignore.
Instead of being broad and generalizing diversity, this themed Winter Term needs to be focused. Its theme needs to be socioeconomic diversity, or gender diversity, or religious diversity. It must be more focused, so students are absorbing a part of diversity that is presented to them everywhere they go on campus during Winter Term. The range of events is impressive and speaks to students with varied interests, but it blends into an ironically indistinguishable blur of diversity.
When students registered for classes, those taking courses on campus for Winter Term were also asked to register for a themed event. All freshmen were automatically registered for “‘Why We Won’t Wait’: Inclusive Community Conversations” sessions.
The university is sticking to its commitment to promoting on-campus diversity by nearly forcing students to attend these events, so it’s also up to the students to both take advantage of the opportunity and recognize the efforts Elon administration is making. The kinds of opportunities offered, though, limit what students can do and learn.
The repeated theme demonstrates Elon’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusivity on campus, both worthy goals.
But we already know the Elon administration is committed to diversity. The first theme of The Elon Commitment Strategic Plan is “an unprecedented university commitment to diversity and global engagement,” and Elon has done its best to follow through. It needs to fine-tune its efforts, though, rather than beating students over the head with the figurative diversity club.