As I continue to struggle with the terms diversity and multiculturalism being imposed on us, I question the way USM is using ‘diversity’ as a marketing tool to attract prospective students. We as students have a duty to look far beyond the surface and to question authority. For example, why is it that we don’t have a critical discourse on diversity and multiculturalism here at USM?
My struggles with diversity and multiculturalism are of both a personal and academic nature. My family fled to the United States in 1998 and it is since then that I have acquired multiple identities. I became a refugee from a country which no longer exists; Yugoslavia. Then I became a Bosnian, a Serb, a European, an American and of course, I have always been a woman. Why is it that we continuously use language that labels us and separates us further from others? We are often asked to state our ethnicity, whether we are multiracial or not, and are asked many other questions which further categorize us.
For a long time I have wondered about my own journey and how my experiences have shaped my identity. It wasn’t until recently that I was exposed to courses, and literature associated with them, that look at these issues.
I first took a course called ‘Refugees: Then and Now’, which focused on the journey of refugees and the process they go through to get here. Students studied different obstacles refugees face throughout their journey. This course helped me better understand the political terminology as well as the experience of other refugees.
The other course, ‘Ambiguous Identities’, challenged me to the core, but introduced me to works of prominent intellectuals around the world. One of them, Peter McLaren, authored “White Terror and Oppositional Agency: Towards a Critical Multiculturalism.” He writes about the relationship between self and other and essentially our relationship to society and physical space. McLaren suggests that Western society is constructed as a ‘system of differences,’ and language is the best tool to talk about these differences. McLaren also suggests that multiculturalism is problematic, because there is a schism of identities, both individual and collective. Differences are controlled by a state’s ideologies. He suggests that there needs to be a shift in pedagogy where teachers need to transform if they are to teach in a transformative way.
The reason I question USM’s marketing strategy on diversity is for several reasons. First of all, we lack the “diverse” curriculum that we are promising to incoming students, and frankly I would appreciate more courses that engage students in critical thinking where we would study literature written by influential authors from around the world. Knowing many languages is an extra bonus in the world these days and our university does not offer that many language programs. Also, when I walk around the Gorham Campus I can not say that it resembles a diverse campus. For another, USM lacks activities and opportunities to encourage student engagements.
I recognize that USM has a few programs that focus on diversity, multiculturalism, gender, race, and sexuality but that may not be enough. We have the potential to become a university that can truly say it is diverse across the spectrum, which can offer a more progressive education. I would like to see USM becoming such a university where diversity and multiculturism are used for more than just a recruitment tool.-0AJ