Saturday, April 11, 2009

Little Tents Inspire Topics: A critique of our resident diversity group

In the last week or two, a group calling itself Student Advocates for Diversity has been leaving these paper tents around on the tables, supposedly asking tough questions about difficult topics. I think that the questions are idiotic, so I am going to answer them, although in ways that the questioners probably never intended.

There are three tents that people have been left, which I'm going to address in ascending order of intelligence. They'll be like this: Gender, Interracial Dating, Diversity.


Does the media perpetuate stereotypes about gender relations? If so, which ones, and what effect do these portrayals have on the public?
"The media?" What exactly does this mean? Are we talking about the so-called mainstream media, that is the major newspapers and television channels, or television programs? What exactly does this mean? "The media", as I have discussed, is a very broad concept. This, right now, is a form of media.
Bypassing that, there is no real answer to the second and third questions here. The answer to the first is obviously "Yes", and the question "Which ones" varies greatly depending on the type of media. Movies, for example, largely follow the convention of the male hero with a love interest. There's increasing variation in the way this convention is done, but overall this stereotype is perpetuated regardless of packaging. I would say that, depending on the media you choose to imbibe, you can find almost any stereotype of gender relations, from Friends to Desperate Housewives to love triangles. As for what effect these portrayals have, well... doesn't that depend on the person? I'm sure it conditions people to act in those ways, and makes plenty of people angry, but that's really it. And besides, is it a bad thing?

Do you think the media has an effect on how you think?
What a stupid question. Do you think the media doesn't?!

Do you think differently about your boss depending on their gender? How about your professor?
Of course. My experience has shown me that female professors and bosses are more likely to be easygoing, assign less homework, forgive absences more often, etc. Admittedly there are outliers (See Game Theory, 2009), but in general this holds true for teachers.

What advantages and disadvantages do both genders have in our society?
Holy hell. See, this is what I'm talking about. I know they're trying to spark discussion, but could you ask a more broad question? Even if you tried? Anyway, they partially answer that question in the next question...

Did you know that women earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns?
Um, where did you get that statistic? The tent doesn't say. Where does that come from? Are there studies showing this that you could give me, or is it just hearsay? I tend to be suspicious of statistics with no citations that people give me when they're trying to prove a point, which this question is...

What expectations do you have of gender roles?
In society? This is a fairly loaded question, because if you fall too far one way or the other you can be accused of being either a sexist knuckledragger or a feminazi. The question I have to ask, though, is "In what?". In the home? The workplace? The bedroom? What?

The title of each pamphlet, Let's Talk About It, seems to imply that the group is uncovering some deep secret or unpleasant issue. So far, they've failed to do that, asking embarrassingly broad questions that are impossible to actually answer and generally making very little sense. Let's see if they can do any better with interracial dating.

Interracial Dating
This seemed like an odd topic to cover; after the broad topics of the first two (Gender and Diversity), Interracial Dating is fairly specific. I suppose they were trying to connect more with people by being less abstract, but it still doesn't seem like the sort of topic that would actually get people to think. Consider:

Do you approve or disapprove of interracial relationships?
Not a bad question; certainly better than the cloudy and nonspecific questions of Gender, but still a fairly bad one. For a student at a liberal arts college, relatively 'enlightened', the answer will usually parallel my "I don't care".

Would you partake in an interracial relationship?
Personally, I already have. Otherwise, it would depend if I... liked them?

Do you think twice when you see a dark skinned male and a light skinned female displaying public affection? What about a dark skinned female and a light skinned male?
They're trying to be just a little bit too politically correct here. See, this is why I don't like political correctness, simply because it makes the same thing harder to type, like saying "dead tree innards bound with rawhide with ink on the innards" when what you mean is "book". Similarly, "light skinned male" can be shortened to "white guy" with loss of sensitivity but a rise in ease of typing.

The actual answer is "No".

What comes to mind when you see two people of different races in a relationship? Why?
I really don't have any particular thoughts when I see interracial couples. Really. And why is because it's not a big deal. Product of a liberal suburb, right here.

Does your opinion differ based on the races of a couple?
I'm going to take the opportunity here that it's more common to see white girls with black guys, particularly athletes, than it is to see white guys with black girls. I don't know why that is.


Now we come to the first, and paradoxically final, pamphlet. It's entitled simply Diversity, and features some of the more straightforward and discussion-prompting questions to date, starting with the first (and broadest) one:

What is diversity?
I have no freakin' idea what diversity is. Like most abstract concepts, you think you know what it is until someone asks you, and then you find out you really have no idea what to say. What is diversity? Is it a certain mix of students such that everyone can meet and talk to people who come from cultures different from their own? OK, sure. But how far does that extend? Are you required to represent all possible cultures, or just those who choose to attend your school? If students stay largely in their respective racial/cultural groups, is it still diverse? What about diversity of opinions and ideals? Are you required to have certain viewpoints on campus to provide a proper balance? Does that include opinions most on campus find distasteful (example: racists)? What about social groups most people find distasteful, such as skinheads? It's a fascinating topic because you really don't know what to include and what not to.

Are we, the college (student body and faculty) diverse?
See above. In fact, see above for What makes a student body diverse? too. It's just so hard to answer without asking a bunch more questions.

How can we change diversity?
Not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone (U-rah!) shall we all live in peace!

Thought I'd bring you a little Jewish spirit in this time of Passover. How you change diversity I'm not sure, except by bringing in different people, obviously enough.

Is diversity important?
Absolutely. Being exposed to different ideas and cultures, especially in college, can change your freakin' life.

What have you learned from being in a diverse environment?
Well, not too much. Despite living in the international dorm for the past year, and being on the COW campus for that selfsame year, I haven't absorbed that many new ideas by osmosis alone. Mostly that some international students are great guys and girls, and some are utter douches (I don't actually know any int'l students that are utter douches, but this follows from the end of the sentence) just like anybody else. A little irony there for your diversity.

Do you think everyone has a culture or just some people?
Wow, this is slightly off topic. Well, as I said to the question of whether people are affected by the media, of fucking course. It's impossible not to have a culture, if culture is the sum of your experiences and the society you live in, which I think it is. The only people who fail that are either living on a mountain somewhere or dead, in either of which cases they have a bacterial culture. So yes, we all do.

What makes you unique/diverse?
The sum of my experiences and the fact that I'm human. For example, I've dug up mammoths in South Dakota and swum with barracuda (and spotted whales) in the Bahamas. I've been to California and to DC to see family on opposite sides of the nation. I love classical music and science fiction and will play a game of chess with you any time. Game theory drives me nuts sometimes and makes beautiful sense sometimes. I was president of the United States of Livingroom and the nation of Copperdomia (in a school setting!). I've been friends with a lot of wonderful people. Point is, everyone can list things like this because everyone is unique. I like this question not for the discussion it starts (it doesn't, really) but for the well-being it inspires, remembering all the awesome things that I've done.

This was going to be the end, but a fourth pamphlet/tent came out the other day. Sadly, it is idiotic and talks about a serious subject (Hate Crimes) with incredible naivete. Let me share this with you.

What is a hate crime?
Well, I'm not going to type it out, but the thing paraphrases in GIVING YOU a definition, so I don't feel like it needs answering...

Have you witnessed a hate crime? Did you do something about it?
Wow, not afraid to ask the tough questions here, are we. I mean, hot damn. That is loaded, especially since the only people who tend to witness these crimes are the victims and the perps. That's not so much a discussion question as it is calling you out.

Have you been a victim of a hate crime?
This catches you off-guard with all the subtlety of an axe to the tonsils. What? Have I what? How many past victims do you think came to COW?

Have you committed a hate crime?
What?! Are you serious?! This is like a detective novel, "So, did you kill Ms. Frost?" What kind of answers do they expect to get?

How do hate crimes affect people?
Usually in the form of physical damage.... I mean, this isn't that bad of a question, but after those gems above I'm less inclined to forgive the stupidity. I mean, really.

Well, that seems to be all for now. Publishing and going to bed. Better appreciate this, it's been a week in the making. Zzzzzzz...

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