Opening a closet full of worms

Though there’s always room for improvement, when it comes to openness toward the out-there, the University of Vermont ranks pretty high on the list.

Dissect your first same-gendered kiss in line for Brennan’s cheese fries and you probably won’t run the risk of being being put out.

Scream the Communist Manifesto from the roof of the Davis Center and a crowd will hail you with cheers instead of middle fingers.

Take comfort in the fact that you attend a school where your roommate is more likely to dread her hair than take a shower.

But don’t make the mistake of assuming that the University’s open and frank discussions on kissing, or communism or dreadlocks extends to the discussion on diversity.

In fact, in a lot of ways, increased efforts to bring the discussion on diversity above ground have actually served to push the real emotional discussion – one that gets beyond politically correct euphemisms or corny Koom-Baya statements – below ground.

In other words, the more we try to create meaningful discussions on diversity, the more they begin to lose meaning.

The more acceptable it becomes to step out of the closet, the more acceptable it becomes to shove dissenting opinions back into it.

In no way do I support discrimination. I’m merely suggesting that the tsk-tsking of extremist opinions – which, for the record, exist on both sides of the diversity spectrum – will never erase their ability to perpetuate racism, spread homophobia or rationalize beating a fellow student, tying him to a fence and leaving him to die.

If we are only willing to listen to those insights that don’t stray too far to either end, we will never understand the emotions behind any hate crime or discriminatory comment – we can never expect to dismantle a culture that’s never made public.

By pulling the covers over our eyes, covering our ears and blocking out all the scary monster noises, we’re doomed to a long wait for Superman.

He must have gotten lost on his way to Vermont.

We attend a school where a fraction of the student body feels like the University-wide focus on diversity has been shoved down their throats.

We attend a school where despite this focus, many minority students still feel underrepresented and oppressed by the majority-white culture.

We attend a school where both groups feel unheard, unacknowledged and discriminated against by the other.

We attend a school where ResLife’s honorable intentions of incorporating diversity into the RA staff results in the common perception that being a member of a minority group is a leg up in the RA hiring process.

We attend a school where segments of the straight-white-and-rich population feel like they’ve been guilt tripped by the multiple diversity-based organizations who are simply attempting to educate and enlighten.

We attend a school where members of both majority and minority groups feel similarly misunderstood. So is it possible that this misunderstanding results partially from the fact that we censor ourselves from saying what we really mean?

And in the midst of diversity training, does everyone really mean what they say?

The answer is not simple. But it begins with the fact that being open, understanding and tolerant requires you to be open and understanding to the racists, the homophobes and the intolerant.

Those students who wish for nothing but tolerance aren’t always tolerant themselves. Yet those making the intolerant remarks demand tolerance.

We should be ready to accept everything and everyone except for the status quo. We can and must do better.