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Women Living Well - 2004
Student Papers
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Diversity and Tension at Bryn Mawr

Jessica Knapp

Over the past four years, I have been able to immerse myself in the unique, challenging, and exciting community that is Bryn Mawr College. Right now, I am a senior who is looking back on her time in college, trying to gain some sort of understanding of what I've done, how I've grown, and what I've learned. Of course, academics are central to our time in college, but the creation and sustaining of community is also imperative in describing life as a Bryn Mawr student.

I would have to say that the most important aspect of my time here has been my involvement in this community. Before I came to Bryn Mawr, even the concept of community was foreign to me. I had heard the word community used, but I didn't really understand it until I got to Bryn Mawr. This is not to say that I had not been a participant in community before college, but Bryn Mawr really stresses the importance of a supportive and engaging community. I have really been able to see this and appreciate it since I began at this school.

At Bryn Maw, we really stress the importance of diversity in the community, both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. This diversity includes not only racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity amongst it students, but also ideological or political diversity. Here we see a valuing of difference. There is an assumption, or perhaps a hope, that in supporting diversity, we will all be able to learn from one another. All of the different perspectives combined will create a community that will be exciting and unique.

But on the other side of this hope for our community is the troubles that come along with diversity. While we would all desire a community which is full of diverse ideas and backgrounds, these differences can often cause a lot of problems. We wish that we could all live comfortably with our differences, but the truth is that many of our differences can cause tension.

One example I can offer is a recent occurrence involving the Pro-Life group. This group, which certainly represents a minority opinion on campus, brought a group here to display some pictures that promote their cause. Many people were offended by the exhibit, and it brought about the problem of self-expression and the tensions that come with diversity. There is a lot of talk about diversity and respect for others. In the case of the Pro-Life group, were we, as a community, respectful to the opinions of some of our students? Further, was the display an example of disrespect for other people's beliefs, or was it just an expression of a minority opinion that many would like to ignore?

I think that the key to solving this puzzle is the importance of dialogue in the community. Dialogue refers to a respectful discussion in which both sides of the argument are trying to understand one another's position, and to come to some sort of resolution which does not necessarily involve one side being right and the other being wrong. I am not sure if this resolution is possible, but I feel that dialogue in community can be incredibly constructed when used correctly.

It is always important for a community to be diverse, but these differences can certainly cause tensions between people. I do believe that people can retain their individuality, no matter how unique, in this community. It seems that a community which seeks diversity must also seek respect and patience. It is through open and engaged dialogue that we sustain these kinds of communities.

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