Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Diversity 2021 / Undergraduate Ethnography

Who Pays Attention to Diversity? Sub/conscious Perspectives, By Eric de Souza (Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity)

This blog post was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum course, “Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity.” It was originally posted in the category “Doing Diversity Work.”

Throughout my research I attempted to answer the question, “How does the University circulate diversity?” I also had some underlying questions such, “what would attract to you towards paying attention to diversity information?” I ran into some interesting data through surveying the student body. I surveyed 47 students altogether. There was an individual who came to find me, after someone I surveyed texted him and told him to come to meet me to do a survey about diversity. I think that individual felt put out that he answered “no” to everything and knew someone who would answer differently. He really did me a favour.

The male student who met me was identifiably white or white passing. He said that whenever he saw diversity events in email or social media, he made the conscious decision to participate. It was quite a different answer than what I was getting among the rest of my survey participants. Many had previously said they would be aware of events but would not attend because of issues of time or because they thought it wasn’t impactful. Thus, I asked what the reasoning behind this was. This student said he was committed to being active in all diversity work, because he had many friendships with diverse individuals such as BIPOC and LGTBQ+ identifying students. This commitment was not a speech act, not a performance, but came from a place within himself wanting to learn and unlearn. This was a conscious active commitment. I had thought previously, for a person to act, when they had the privilege not to do so, would be from a place of morality. However, what I observed in his answers, came from a place of relationality to others instead. I will probably never forget it.

Other students I surveyed answered differently. A BIPOC female student said she felt no need to interact in these events or pay much attention to the diversity information circulated by the diversity. Her reasoning was that everyone around her was visually diverse. It was subconscious feeling, that did not motivate towards any conscious actions. It was pure acceptance. To be visually diverse in classrooms, on campus, or even images in posters was enough. Another BIPOC male student said he thought about the information in posters or visuals, having more awareness of it, but not needing to pursue it. He would think about the information critically over a period of time, and that was enough. All of these answers demonstrate that motivations to do diversity work or engage in diversity activities, are highly personal. As well, there are many different ways of processing information around you in relation to yourself, and I don’t believe the racial identities of these individuals played as a big a role as you would first think in their subconscious or conscious decision making. I thank them for adding such nuance towards my research, to help me understand what is meaningful in terms of “diversity” information to students.

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