The Importance of Accepting and Promoting Diversity
If you see a woman wearing a colorful dress, a mask on her face, and covering her hair with a sparkly scarf, the possibility is that you are about to meet me. I am not an American, but a Bangladeshi grad student. I have an F1 visa and roam around NDSU’s campus, attending grad courses, and teaching as an instructor in the English department.
My accent sounds different from a typical American instructor, and English is not even my first language. Yes, you heard and read it right, but the fact is that I do not teach English. It is an audacious move to claim that I teach native speakers their mother tongue. I believe that no matter what, I can not teach English. I teach a writing course, and I have done lots of writing in my life for my background in English language and literature.
It should also be mentioned that I do not possess the ability to be an instructor of Shakespeare or Chaucer. If my students are freshman or sophomore students who want to hone their writing skills and choose me, I am their instructor. Anyone who is next Shakespeare or J. K. Rowling should take an exit from my class. Don’t get me wrong. I am just a humble grad teaching assistant!
My purpose is, here, to talk about the diversity and inclusivity that NDSU believes in and nurtures through different programs, and by accepting international students like me. With diversity comes some aspects like our accents, outfits, religious differences etc. As I sound different, I am particular about it. This particularity about my English and accent leads to consciousness and anxiety, at the same time. Making sure that people understand me has become my obsession, which is not always a healthy thing to brag about or share with.
However, I know that diversity has different advantages like promoting cultural bondings, friendships, having brilliant minds together to enhance and add cerebral unity in academia, bringing an end to biases and stereotypes, and the list is endless.
I am a person of color, and I know how challenging it is to convince myself that people around me believe in diversity. If you belong to the majority, the concept of diversity, most probably, has a different meaning to you. For a brown person, we have to prove that by accepting us, under the umbrella of diversity and inclusivity, you have not made a mistake.
Let me give you a personal example. I was at Walmart at Dilworth, and after buying my groceries, I was leaving. Suddenly, I saw that one white salesperson from Walmart was checking a white woman’s bag and another white woman was waiting for her turn to be checked. Without a second thought, I stood right behind her, considering that if that salesperson could check white people’s bags then, for sure, she would be checking mine too, as I wear a scarf all the time. I was disappointed as that white salesperson motioned me to go. See how insecure I feel just because I am a Muslim and brown.
I agree that because of NDSU and the USA’s belief in diversity and inclusivity, I am here. My university and the USA have provided me with lots of opportunities that I am grateful for. But in terms of reality, the picture is sometimes grim. It is possible that even if you are not a racist, negative assumptions can still be racist. With diversity comes a lot of hurdles, from your side and my side too.
Now, I will discuss the ways that we can overcome the hurdles that come with diversity, working together. First of all, communication challenges due to our choice of words and lack of knowledge about the cultural appropriateness of the usage of the right language. There were times when I said something intending something wholly different, but meant something else to American students and my classmates.
Luckily, my professors are supportive and wise enough to understand the differences that come with my luggage, passport and certificates. Having said that, what about the fissures that happened because of my unawareness about the propriety of language? To solve the verbal puzzles, I need my classmates’ support too. They need to understand that I come from a country where we study British English but with a bit of our own taste and appropriateness of expressions.
Another conflict that arises is resistance to accept opinion and views. We are different. I know that it sounds cliche. Irony of the fact is that it is a universal truth. A truth like the sun rises in the east. After waking up in the morning, we don’t think about the sun or the east side. But our oblivion to the facts does not diminish the truth. Similarly, no matter how cliche it sounds or appears, differences exist when people from different backgrounds come under the same roof. What if every one of us cling to the fact that you have to accept my opinion? The result is going to be dull and disastrous. We are going to have only one answer whereas multiple answers could come out of the discussion.
To evade that, we need to understand that we have distinct personalities and our own ways of interpreting things. It is not necessary to see facts and figures from the same point of view. What is 9 to you is a 6 to me! We are different! Embrace it.
One of my American friends got mad the other day in our class and said that international students come from some places where science and technology has little to no exposure in academia. I don’t know where these ideas come from about other countries and, at the same, I am not overruling that friend’s opinion. Yeah, it is true that some people come from places where they did not have much exposure to science and tech stuff. But if we consider it biases or stereotypes, then it gets identified as a problem.
If I talk about my misconceptions and biases about the USA and American people, I came here thinking that American people would be racist to me, as just one glance is enough to understand that I am brown and a Muslim. To my utter disappointment, most of the people are so welcoming and friendly that I, sometimes, laugh at myself. And I don’t care about the few people who do not care about me. My concern was always regarding the majority, and they have accepted me, so far, for who I am.
It seems funny now how I bought tickets for a country that I was fostering a negative attitude towards. If I had not come here, I would not understand what I was carrying inside me was mostly the misconceptions that were generated because of false media representations and propaganda.
Diversity can also be problematic when people from diverse forces have to work together. We, certainly, have our tendency to do things in our own way, but when someone asks to adopt something different, we get hurt, and sometimes, offended. The process becomes complex, requiring cultural sensitivity and inclusion efforts. Oftentimes, it leads to indecision and stagnation.
Again, the solution to the problem is cooperation. Two heads are stronger than one. Four hands are mightier than two. Rainbow is a rainbow for its multitudes of color in just one frame. The wait is just for rain to come. Similarly, diversity is the ultimate strength we need to stay in one picture with lots of patience, humility, tolerance, and compassion. Here, the wait is just for us to accept that we are better when we are together but in different ways.
I am fully aware that practicing diversity and believing in diversity are two different things. When it comes to practicing something, you need full exposure to it and foster it through your daily behaviors, attitudes, and actions. Coming from different backgrounds makes it difficult to understand what to say, and do. My professor Dr. Alison Graham-Bertolini, an associate professor of English and Women’s Studies, once said to me when I shared an incident with her, “Fahmida, when two international students meet, misunderstandings happen mainly due to cultural differences. The best way to solve it is to talk about it, nurturing best intentions for each other. Do you think that you can do (talk about) it?”.
Trust me I did it. I talked to my classmate, and now, I share a good relationship with her. My professor’s advice is applicable for everyone I think. We have to fix the situation instead of pushing one another because of the dissimilarities we share. In diversity, if we believe, we are going to be stronger than ever, taking the workforce with cerebral power and gifts into account.
I know! It is easier said than done. Struggles to overcome the hurdles that diversity throws at us are real and nerve-wracking. But the solution depends on our willpower. It is very much like to accept or not to accept, that is the question. A typical Hamlet situation! We can easily accept our differences and spot the similarities to make sure that we are bonding together to maintain the diversity and inclusivity NDSU has faith in. Instead of being a Hamlet, we can write our fair and just tales holding our hands tightly, with the determination not to write any other tragedies. Lets create a story with several main characters where everyone plays the lead role. We surely can do it!