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Welcoming Diversity? (Revision on Slippage)

haabibi's picture

ESem Essay #13

December 18, 2015

Welcoming Diversity?

             “Welcome Home! Bryn Mawr tries its best to provide welcoming, inclusive and respectful environment as we are committed to diversity!”

When the upperclassmen held their lanterns into two lines singing and paving a path for freshmen to go through, they warmly hugged the freshmen and sent a heartfelt welcoming message by saying “Welcome Home.” During customs week and in every tradition, there always have been upperclassmen and faculties saying those two words to freshmen. But strangely, the more I got to hear those words, the more I felt being alienated to this community.

It is true that today’s Bryn Mawr is definitely heading toward a different direction compared to its early stage under controlled by M. Carey Thomas. Unlike the past, today’s Bryn Mawr tries its best to consolidate the unity of the college regardless of the students’ and faculties’ skin colors or economic statuses. The president of the college has been taking various measures to break the silence of the oppressed minorities and to hear their voices. But it is never easy to get off the stain on the white cloth as the long history of Bryn Mawr College that was based on privileged white young women still resonates.

As an international student, who was luckily able to matriculate such a renowned elite women’s college with generous financial aid, I would be forever grateful for this community for giving me once in a life time opportunity to have the most exciting and memorable four years of my life. But, when it comes to a question whether I was able to affiliate fully with the community, I would hesitate and have hard time answering right away. It was the notion that Bryn Mawr “welcomes” “diversity” that unconsciously drove me away from the community. 

“To be welcomed is to be positioned as the one who is not at home … treated as guests, temporary residents …. this very structural position of being the guest, or the stranger, the one who receives hospitality, allows an act of inclusion to maintain the form of exclusion.(39)” (Dalke Web: Sara Ahmed).


Sara Ahmed, as introduced in Anne Dalke’s book, “Slipping into Something More (Un)Comfortable”, suggests that welcome holds both notions of inclusion and exclusion. Welcome implies that there should be two distinct existing parties: one the owner of the house and the other, being welcomed and invited to the house. This is why people have regarded upperclassmen’s welcoming freshmen at the very beginning of the semester as a very natural or heartwarming tradition, because freshmen were new and were making their new journeys to adapt to the new society. Thus welcoming ceremony or such heartfelt invitation can only be applicable when there is one party that is not accustomed to the other.

So when Bryn Mawr says it welcomes diversity, it actually means that the community has been unnoticeably excluding diversity. Welcoming diversity means that there is no diversity in home and that people in the home see diversity with hospitality. If diversity has been fully embraced as one of the constituents of the home, people would not say they welcome diversity –as upperclassmen do not usually say welcoming message to each other.

The word “diversity” is a term that should be carefully termed, because it generates a backlash for people, especially from international students who are not capable of delivering their thoughts effectively due to their imperfect English. According to Bowers, the author of “Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence”, has emphasized the need of awareness for taken-for-granted pattern of thinking (Bowers). When we normally think of diversity, we tend to think people in different colors holding hands to hands smiling. But in reality the concept of diversity would only arise when people are in power dynamics: one powerful majority in the middle from the very beginning and the rest of other groups with differences. If people were all regarded as one homogeneous being, such word that realizes the differences between people would not exist. Thus Ahmed believes that institutionalizing diversity does not create home to minorities but makes them into strangers (Dalke Web).

She also contends that diversity is an institutionalized discourse to fix the broken history as a language of reparation (Dalke Web). In the case of Bryn Mawr too, this institution might have been using the word –diversity, maybe too much, to repair its long shameful history of intense innate privilege of white skin color and wealth.

             One of the slippages that I have found and personally experienced in the classrooms at Bryn Mawr was the way some professors’ and students’ perceive their peer international students with hospitality. Hospitality is not at all means bad thing that should be refrained from. Hospitality is indeed important toward the ones who are in need. And I really appreciate all the kindness and patience of my peers and professors for understanding my blundering English. But hospitality should not exist in this campus where people should all be treated equal and as same human beings. Of course international students have less experience with English and discussion-based class ambience. However, less experience does not mean they should be treated as those who are in need and as subjects of hospitality.

In order for international students to make a true home here, they should not expect to receive any form of hospitality from others. Not being able to speak English fluently does not mean we are more inferior to others nor we expect to get more credits for writing and speaking in second language.

             Looking back, I now can see why I still felt very uncomfortable making a home here to myself and identified myself as a guest here –because of slippage of “welcoming diversity” with hospitality. But I am confident that after such slippage, I will make my own way of building my own identity here as a Bryn Mawr student by “yielding to personal and subjective truth” that would lead me “into new thought and order” (Dalke Web). 


Works Cited

Anne Dalke, "Slipping into Something More (Un)Comfortable: Untangling Identity, Unsettling Community." DRAFT chapter for Steal This Classroom: Teaching and Learning Unbound, book manuscript by Anne Dalke and Jody Cohen, forthcoming with punctum press, Summer 2016. 

C.E. Bowers, Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence." OMETECA 43: 14-15.