There is a problematic subculture of ignorance and intolerance at Boston College that the university attempted to address this year by introducing a new requirement for its students: an online course called DiversityEdu. When BC first announced that the student body would be required to complete an online education program on diversity in the style of AlcoholEdu, many students, myself included, expressed exasperation. How could an online module facilitate any worthwhile discussion? Why was the school’s first action on diversity an online program and not a physical commitment to establishing diversity on campus and truly welcoming people of diverse backgrounds?
I tried to go into DiversityEdu with an open mind, reminding myself that there is a fine line between excluding ourselves from conversations about diversity and active prejudice, and I hoped that BC had really made an effort to address diversity on campus. What I found disappointed me greatly.
The content of DiversityEdu was not misguided—the problem was in the way that it was presented. It was oversimplified and the format made it all too easy to ignore the lessons within the course. The module addressed microaggressions, inclusiveness, being an ally, and facilitating discussions with people from different backgrounds. It discussed the burden that minorities feel to constantly have to initiate and facilitate that kind of conversation. This is all well and good, but I could not help but wonder if this kind of online presentation could actually create any real change in the attitudes towards diversity. Did the administration really believe that this solved the problems of intolerance and prejudice on campus? It seemed like an easy way for the university to say that it had addressed the problem without actually having to create meaningful change.
The fact that DiversityEdu was modeled after AlcoholEdu was an immediate red flag to myself and others. It is a widely acknowledged fact at BC that AlcoholEdu does not actually affect the drinking culture on campus. While the course is informative, it is not taken seriously by the students. Because DiversityEdu was modeled in this same way, students dismissed it as unimportant before they even completed it. Even students of color who would normally welcome efforts by the university to spark conversation about race and diversity on campus did not believe that DiversityEdu was the answer. We should all be open to learning more about other people’s experiences, and I know plenty of people who I think could benefit from diversity training, but this course simply does not get the job done.
DiversityEdu is a weak attempt at solving the issues of intolerance that this school faces. It seems to me that this really is the bare minimum that the administration could do to address the problem. Though it may not have been intended this way, it seemed like an attempt to just check “diversity” off the administration’s planner with no further action required. Just an hour seminar and the issue is resolved, no further action required, and no liability on the part of the university if anything were to happen because they had educated us.
In addition, because this was an online seminar as opposed to a more personal presentation, there was no accountability for students actually learning from the material. People who were resistant to the idea of DiversityEdu in the first place, those who would have been best-served by it, could just watch TV and play it in the background. The module emphasized face-to-face interaction with people different from you and listening to other perspectives, but the online format of the content essentially cut all of that out. Unlike the Campus of Difference seminars or the Stand Up BC sessions, there was no need to participate or engage if you didn’t want to.
There were a few aspects of DiversityEdu that were blatantly hypocritical on the part of the administration. I found the part of the module addressing disability to be all talk, as BC is notoriously shaky in terms of accessibility on campus, even facing investigation in 2015 for violation of accessibility laws. Furthermore, the section on “committing further to Jesuit ideals” as a solution to issues of diversity seemed to be nothing but a string of buzzwords. Though I admit there is much value in our Jesuit identity, what specifically is the Catholic Church going to teach us about inclusion and diversity? It does not do justice to Jesuit values and institutions to simply bring up the Jesuit tradition as a quick and unexplained fix to campus problems.
DiversityEdu implored us to seek out others of different backgrounds. While I acknowledge that everyone’s background is unique, when I'm the only black person in a room or when there are more people who attended the same high school than people of color on a dorm floor, that is a problem that needs to be addressed in a tangible way, not by an online seminar. Instead of making students complete a short module, we should be seeing active steps being made to change the culture of the campus.
After the events of last fall and the Silence is Still Violence march, the administration did pledge to make and carry out changes. Perhaps DiversityEdu is just the first of many steps, but it is undeniable that this one step is not enough. DiversityEdu was the Boston College administration’s solution, and clearly when left to their own devices they cannot come up with an adequate answer to this problem. I am confident that with the committed student voices on campus and professors that want to see Boston College live up to its ideals, we will be able to create real and lasting change on campus, but that change needs to come from a collective effort of minds working together to make BC a better and more inclusive space for everyone. The administration, staff, and students must work together to come up with a more effective and lasting solution than DiversityEdu.