Is Diversity Losing Its Meaning?

I write the subsequent knowing this is my final column as a USF student, and before signing off I feel obligated to call for reform in the manner we use one of our most treasured terms: Diversity.

It is paramount that, as I call for this monumental shift, readers are mindful that I am not calling for a complete dismissal of the term. I am encouraging the term be used, but used in such a way that it carries the great meaning it defines.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, Diverse means: 1. Unlike. 2. Composed of distinct forms of qualities.

USF is most deserving of having this term attached to its name.  I met more people from different parts of the world, been exposed to more cultural practices, and learned about more religions in my two and a half years at USF than at any other point in my life.  There is a direct correlation between USF’s diversity and my expanded knowledge of a plethora of peoples and cultures.  Each one is unlike the other.  Each lesson in diversity has had its distinct qualities. But in these two and a half years, my appreciation of the term “diversity” has depreciated exponentially because of its rampant, often misguided, use.

The problem arises when people use the term to mean one thing when in reality they mean something entirely different. You do not have a diversity of pens in your backpack.  You have a range, an assortment, and an array.  USF’s diversity is more important than any collection of pens or markers, no matter how colorful the ink or how sharp the point. Yes, if you uttered the aforementioned phrase you partially used the term correctly, but you fully diluted the importance of a term that has come to define our entire community.

Robbing “diversity” of its impact is a more serious offense than all of those times you stole a candy bar from the cafeteria combined.  We can buy more candy bars, but we cannot replenish the meaning of this term once it has been reduced to such low standards of use. I grimace when thinking of the non-impact this term has for seniors who came to USF as freshmen when I, who will have been at USF for just over half as much time as they, battle against rolling my eyes or sighing when I hear the term used.

The underlying premise is that words, by definition, have meaning.  But by use, they could potentially have impact.  Diversity is one of those terms that could and should have impact when spoken; yet everyday we are lessening its impact on this campus by overuse.

What I am calling for is thought before speech.  Lets think about the impact of our words before we use them.

I am not innocent.  I have robbed several words of their meaning, but am willing to make the change from a common thief to a thoughtful, impactful speaker.  I do not want future students to roll their eyes when hearing “diversity.” I do not want them to take lightly a term that has largely defined my undergraduate experience.  I want to preserve this term’s meaning so that, when spoken, its impact is felt from the Foghorn office, to St. Ignatius Church, to Lone Mountain to the School of Education.

The way we do this is choosing quality over quantity. The Oxford English Dictionary lists roughly 500,000 words. Use one of those when discussing pens and reserve “diversity” for more important uses.  The less it is spoken, the more it will be listened to.


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