Expanding the Definition of Diversity

By: Emily Coccia

November 5, 2014

As a senior in the College, I have had the opportunity to immerse myself in the “Georgetown experience,” taking classes outside my comfort zone, meeting people from different walks of life, and stepping up to leadership positions. I’ve been heavily involved in organizations relating to female and LGBTQ empowerment, participating as a WAGE Fellow, serving as president of Women in Politics, and coordinating the Female Empowerment Magis Row house. In my work on and off campus, I have tried to emphasize the importance of understanding intersectional identities and recognizing different experiences as equally important in conversation. Taking classes like “Queer Theory,” “Sexuality Studies,” and “Class Fictions in the Contemporary US” have helped me to engage with difference not only in an extracurricular setting, but also in the classroom. Similarly, much of my academic work engages with questions of difference, complicating the idea that one “normal” narrative exists surrounded by the secondary stories told by those cast as “other.” I think that until we recognize that all identity groups have their own politics and make visible the unspoken norm that exists behind our universalizing stories, we cannot hope to engage with diversity in a truly productive and meaningful way.

I was drawn to the Doyle Undergraduate Fellows Program by its emphasis on precisely this sort of intersectional thinking. Focusing especially on religion and culture, the program addresses what I find to be one of the most pertinent questions on our campus: how do we teach students to relate to one another despite broad cultural differences? With one of the first events students experience on campus, Pluralism in Action, I think Georgetown aims to start a conversation. What the Doyle Undergraduate Fellows Program does, then, is provide a space to continue that conversation—to delve deeper and engage with the question of how we value, rather than simply overcome, our diversity.

During my time in the program, I hope to continue thinking about how questions of religion and culture impact other areas of diversity. While at Georgetown, I’ve taken “Smart, Female, and Catholic” with Professor Lord and "Judaism and Gender” with Professor Watts Belser. Both of these classes took the conversation one step further, thinking not only about the question of religion, but also of how individual difference within a religion—be it gender or sexuality—can change the experience. While I find that Georgetown has done an excellent job in improving how we discuss and partake in diversity, I think that there are ways to broaden the conversation, especially reaching underclassmen. While my conversations with seniors often reflect a maturity in understanding that we all come from different situations and bring new perspectives, I think there are ways in which underclassmen often struggle with the anxiety that conversations on difference and privilege can sometimes produce. With the Doyle Fellows’ emphasis on culture, I see the potential to encourage new students from the start to think about diversity—in terms not just of race and ethnicity, but also religion, class, gender, and sexuality—and how our intersectional identities can alter the “typical” Georgetown experience.

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Expanding the Definition of Diversity