On the few occasions when I have accompanied my colleague Victoria Bass on outreach trips for the university, many parents and prospective students upon hearing that we are representing Chico State remark that the university is not very diverse. Because Chico State is a predominately white institution (PWI) whose student body is, according to fall 2011 statistics, 58.3% white, it is easy to see how people may arrive at that conclusion. (For more student demographics, click here.) Certainly, on the surface of things, Chico State is rather homogenous. While there are clearly areas in regards to diversity that we need to improve upon, to assume that Chico State is completely lacking in diversity is fallacious. Inherent in that assumption is that all members of a particular group are one and the same, without any sort of variation or difference.
As the chief diversity officer, my job is to oversee the implementation of “To Form a More Inclusive Learning Community”: The CSU, Chico Diversity Action Plan, 2011-2016. Those duties include helping the campus community “develop and realize a shared understanding of ‘inclusive community’” (DAP Priority #5). The Diversity Action Plan (DAP) posits a definition of diversity which challenges us to broaden our understanding of the term:
Diversity is dynamic and ubiquitous and encompasses the richness of differences among people. Our understanding of diversity continues to unfold as we learn and grow in our efforts to form a more inclusive community. It extends beyond traditional considerations—such as those based on ability, age, culture, disability, race/ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexuality, regional and national origin, political affiliation, religion and socio-economic background – to include the intellectual diversity that is a hallmark of a great university. We actively and intentionally engage with this diversity to increase our awareness, knowledge, and appreciation of the ways in which we interact and to achieve the benefits of inclusive excellence for all our community members as we pursue pluralism and unity.
Not only does the definition assert that diversity is synonymous with excellence, it also suggests that, as is the case with an iceberg, there is more to diversity than meets the eye. By embracing an understanding of diversity that moves beyond the “traditional considerations,” those characteristics and traits which usually appear above or at the waterline of visibility, to also encompass those aspects of diversity which appear below the waterline and are not readily detected by the eye, we are better able to see, to realize that we are all diverse individuals.
The iceberg is a fitting metaphor for both diversity and Chico State. Nine-tenths of an iceberg resides below the surface. Just as it is difficult to judge the size and shape of an iceberg, it is also difficult to ascertain all of an individual’s diversity traits simply by looking at them or attempting to guess based upon observations or other perceptions. The four images of the diversity iceberg model in this post’s photo gallery reveal that the various characteristics and traits which comprise our diversity make it such that no two icebergs are exactly the same. Consequently, what we also learn is that when it comes to diversity, there is more to Chico State than meets the eye.