Diversity matters, often misunderstood

Bethany Livas, a sales associate at Hippie Gypsy, stands against a Beatles mural on 4th Avenue in Tucson on Jan. 30, 2017. (Photo by: Mackenzie Boulter/Arizona Sonora News)


Diversity broadens worldliness.

It presents itself everyday through social interactions with colleagues, grocery store clerks, even in a 10-second encounter with a stranger in the elevator.

The Academy Awards, for example, have historically been high on the agenda for issues of diversity. Last year’s Oscars took a specific social hit for being too white, with no nominated actors of color.

This year’s front-runners for the Academy Awards recognize seven minority actors chosen under different categories, including a record breaking six African-American actors, with a person of color nominated in each category.

The same diversity conundrums exist in the workforce where women and minorities are often not given equal standing. It happens in political arenas when minority viewpoints are shouted down.

Whether it is in the workforce, in schools or on the cover of big name magazines, diversity is still often misunderstood.

Often the term diversity conveys the connotation of race and ethnicity, but it is so much more than that. Diversity considers a wide range of individuals by gender, sexual orientation, disability status, social class, race, ethnicity, national orientation, cultural values, etc.

“Diversity applies to the idea that there are lots of different ways of being in this world, lots of different ways of thinking and believing and valuing cultures and backgrounds,” said Adam Lazarewicz, a professor in psychology at the University of Arizona.

The ability to understand perspectives outside of one’s own can be lost when raised in a place where most people come from the same background. When grouped by social class, racial affiliation or ethnicity, diversity can be lost.

“Getting new perspectives that you haven’t considered before can really help us to enrich ourselves through our experiences with diversity,” said Laura Hunter, associate diversity officer for UA Diversity and Inclusion. “It’s important to our culture because it’s an inherent part of our culture.” 

Diversity encourages equal rights for everyone and presents an equal opportunity for all to succeed in the workplace and society.

“We want to hire people from all different backgrounds and be able to work effectively as teams when we’re in the workplace,” Hunter said. “Ensuring that people are being treated fairly and that we’re not judging them by the color of their skin, but rather by their possible contributions.”

Demographics of the U.S. show progress is being made.

“We’ve seen a change with the demographic make up of the U.S,” Hunter said. “Even political viewpoints have changed within the generational divide with the relatively recent acceptance of the LGBQT society.”

A study done by the Pew Research Center in 2015 demonstrates that millennials are the most diverse generation yet in terms of race, when compared to the older generations, as 43% of the generation identifies as non-white.

Millennials were entering adulthood when same-sex-marriage was legalized, stimulating social justice. During their lifetimes, they have seen many other advances in social change with the boom of social media and internet technology.

“I think that outlets like social media have really contributed to challenging diversity. There is a much greater degree of ease of communication nowadays, which provides an outlet to get out of that bubble,” Lazarewicz said. “It gives you these windows to see and understand other people’s perspectives more readily.”

The younger generations have grown up with technologies that allow for communication with people from around the globe. When there is something that a person doesn’t understand about another individual, culture or religion, it only takes seconds to search an answer.

Yet there is still resistance about the issue.

Alexandra Mast, a UA junior, is the founder and president of the Global Citizens Society club at UA. Global Citizens Society strives to promote love within the community through a means of education about various cultures.

“Most of the hate in the world stems from ignorance, so if we can eradicate that with education, compassion, tolerance and patience for people to open up and let go of their fear, I believe that we are serving our purpose,” Mast said.

People who are afraid of diversity, she said, are the ones who are ignorant to what diversity really is.

“It’s kind of like kids who are afraid of the dark. If you explain the science behind it they’ll still probably fear it,” Mast said. “They have to reach a certain spiritual awareness to realize that it is not something to be afraid of.”

The “us vs. them” mentality creates a mindset of separate among groups.

“Social change matters,” Lazarewicz said. “Our brains are hardwired to categorize things, leading us to categorize people like we would objects. This can be the hardest thing to get away from because it fundamentally is grounded that way in our brains.”

As other people are seen as an “other” or a “them,” people tend to build resistance seeing them separate from others. The key, researchers believe, is making connections psychologically to find how the “other” relates to the “us,” he said.

“Demographics have changed in the U.S. and we’re an increasingly diverse society because of it,” Hunter said. “To succeed in this world you have to be able to interact with others who are unlike yourself.”

Mackenzie Boulter is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of  Arizona. Contact her at mackenzieboulter@email.arizona.edu.


Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *