By Maggie Cress
I grew up in a small town that had little ethnic diversity. As I got older, my town’s population of Mexican immigrants began to increase. This increase in diversity made me aware that I have a tendency to emphasize sameness and gloss over differences instead of asking questions about differences in culture.
I think that this is something that a lot of other people do in an attempt to not seem insensitive or make anybody uncomfortable. The problem is, it is the easy way out and doesn’t promote cultural understanding.
As humans we have a lot in common, but by ignoring the fact that people view the world differently based on their background we assume that our perspective is the only one and therefore impose it on others. During New Student Days I was sitting in Eaton Chapel trying really hard not to fall asleep when someone on the community engagement panel said something that caught my attention: ‘Don’t treat others the way you would want to be treated, treat others the way they want to be treated.’ In order to better understand other people, it is necessary to be open to and actively pursue knowledge of other cultures.
In my Violence and Human Rights in Latin America class, we talk about the university as a producer of knowledge. If seen from this angle, a failure of American colleges and universities to produce knowledge from different cultural lenses limits our ability to understand the world. Ethnic studies programs can potentially make people feel uncomfortable but instead of glossing over differences, it is crucial that we study society from different perspectives. At a time when ethnic studies programs are becoming more controversial, it is more important than ever to be learning from different cultural perspectives so that one generally accepted “American” perspective isn’t the only viewpoint from which we see the world.