Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

On education, equality and diversity

Having already gone through the various paths of primary and secondary education, either as a private school attendee or a public school student, we all converge at Stanford with a long list of prior accumulated knowledge, opinions, and a laundry list of biases. We’ve come here to pursue a degree, but we’ve also come here to pursue the life experience of college and grow as individuals. What we often fail to acknowledge is our own privilege in the matter of this education, the gaps that exist in access to education, and the gaps that may persist even upon our arrival at Stanford and interaction within the walls of classrooms.

The topic of diversity has been discussed countless times in numerous contexts, whether it be affirmative action or the historical tendencies of Western ideals to overpower non-Western cultures. There are several campus initiatives for increased diversity in Stanford’s educational sphere, perhaps the most nascent and prominent being Who’s Teaching Us. While some of their key points may be controversial and warrant further discussion, the overall philosophy is one that Stanford as an educational institution should be wholeheartedly supporting. Diversity is not only conducive to learning, it is a critical component in a desperately needed new era of education in which both Western and non-Western ideas are discussed, and minority viewpoints are actually considered.

Think of this: How do we know what we can’t understand? The obvious answer to this question is that we can’t — we can only speculate. Yet many of us do not accept this very blatant fact, because surely we must be able to use our own logic, experiences, and facts to create informed opinions. This first-person correctness bias leads us to naturally discredit opposing viewpoints, although we may consider them. Yet, as an American culture, we are enmeshed in the idea of American and Western superiority, and are collectively pretty terrible at being open with our opinions. What comes with living in a subjective, biased world are subjective biases that we can’t help but internalize. This is not to say that they can’t change necessarily, but all of us, upon being born into the world and becoming familiar with it, adopt different biases. These are most prominently displayed through discourse on religion, politics, and social issues, and it can cause the majority to discredit the culture, intellectual traditions, and ideas of minority groups.

This failure to stems not from a lack of empathy necessarily, but from this notion of the superiority of one’s own opinions and a society’s continual affirmation of this belief. The reason we may feel comfortable expressing our opinions is because we believe, to some extent, that they represent factual statements, or have some truthful merit. At Stanford, where the environment is much more culturally diverse than most of the United States, we have to be careful that we are not continuing to perpetuate the idea that American or Western values or opinions are somehow more truthful or worthy than those of other traditions. If we consider the goals of academia and intellectual thought, we might consider the goals of humanity as a whole and the betterment of our world, and the inclusion of minority groups is paramount to achieving this goal, whether it be in the study of politics, or the study of STEM fields.

This discussion brings up the relevant question of why any of us should care about diversity in fields rooted in hard science, replicable results, and facts. Why should the race or gender of the person doing the math matter in the grand scheme of a scientific endeavor? My take on this question lies in the changing scene of scientific experiment and theory. Take my own field, physics, as an example. Historically, science has been a relatively solitary journey, with individuals discovering key properties of physics, forming new theories, and making mathematical or experimental contributions to previously cultivated ideas. However, as innovation in both theory and practice become increasingly difficult to attain, the scientific endeavor now revolves around collaborative groups, such as CERN, LIGO, and countless smaller research groups at universities around the world. This means that differences in the way individuals approach problems may lead to new insights, and presenting such ideas in a diverse, collaborative environment will allow fast breakthroughs in many areas of science.

Beyond the benefits of a diversity of viewpoints when pursuing history, science, or language, if nothing else, the reason that we should be doing more to incur more diversity is in the goal of pursuing a more just and peaceful world through interactions with others different from ourselves. Many of the opinions and viewpoints we form in college are critical to moving forward in our lives. This, for many of us, is the time of our lives at which our identities are most fluid and we experiences changes from our previous ideologies. The information and opinions we disseminate inform the issues we will go on to care about, advocate for, and discuss with other individuals.

It is critical that institutes of higher education form an environment where a diversity of opinions may be heard and people from different backgrounds may freely interact with each other. This means, firstly, that students must be comfortable being themselves within a classroom, comfortable sharing their opinions and takes on various issues, and we must foster an environment where standing out from the crowd is accepted and cherished. While this may practically be difficult to achieve, some possible steps include expanding the canon of taught literary texts to non-Western works, hiring diverse faculty, and educating faculty and students alike on various groups of students may face within their realm of expertise. While the exact path to reaching these goals may be unclear, we as a university must start embracing the idea of the diversity of individuals, cultures, and thought, for the betterment of us all.

Contact Amara McCune at amccune2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • Lenell Dufour

    I await the time when Republican values and diversity of thought is cherished in liberal institutions such as yours. Of course you don’t REALLY cherish ALL diversity !