What is Diversity?

I have two cool things to share on this blog related to social work. First, on March 15th, I officially applied to be accepted into the SOWK program! Although I am declared and allowed to take certain classes, I cannot take upper levels until I am officially admitted. Second, on the same day, I had an amazing experience at the Diversity Conference hosted by JMU.

Unfortunately, due to classes and work schedules, I could only attend one panel, but the content really made me think about my purpose as a social worker, and what I want to accomplish.

I attended a student panel that basically discussed the topic of how well JMU did diversity. Now, it isn’t a secret that statistically, JMU is not super diverse in the race or gender category. The majority of the student population is caucasian and female. However, JMU is diverse in a lot of other ways, which brought up the interesting discussion of what does diversity mean?

One of the student speakers articulately explained that if diversity is to be defined by one qualifier, there are so many other identities and experiences that are being left out of the conversation. This is an important element of cultural competence because diversity really goes farther than simply race or ethnicity. So far in my coursework, I have been concentrating on how I can improve my own cultural competency, which is imperative in the line of work I hope to go into.

Another speaker referred to two different kinds of diversity. There is diversity that she refers to as “coffee cup diversity” and then the kind that is not. Coffee cup diversity refers to those conversations that are comfortable to have:

What’s your major? Where are you from? What schools did you go to? Do you speak another language?

However, there is another kind of diversity that isn’t comfortable and can be awkward or scary to approach. Discussing how you have faced discrimination or the way you feel included by political policies can be a much more uncomfortable conversation to have — and this is what a lot of universities, JMU included, have trouble doing.

I feel lucky to be a social work major because unlike a lot of other programs, community outreach is a requirement for our coursework and we are confronted with difficult conversations regularly. In fact, we are specifically trained how to facilitate those conversations. I’ve done such a variety of community service, not only through social work but through my community service sorority as well. Harrisonburg is a diverse and beautiful city, with over 60+ languages spoken at the high school and a refugee center that is supported by the entire community.

Yet, I have a lot of friends who stay in the JMU bubble and have done very little engagement with the outside. Something that was discussed at the panel was whether JMU should make community service, or cultural engagement, a requirement of all students. Personally, I am really supportive of this idea because especially with the political climate, all professions can benefit from having employees experience with cultural competency and service.

Conversations like the one I participated in at this conference remind all of us how we can personally grow to become more competent professionals and embrace the opportunities our communities provide us.



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