Two Offbeat Diversity Stories: Common Readings & Campus Portraits (@thecrimson @cornellsun)

A pair of stories that would fit snugly into the diversity beats of most campus press outlets caught my eye in Ivy League student newspapers recently.  They are both reminders that diversity issues are present on every campus beyond the gender spread, skin color, and birthplaces of the student body and staff.  In these cases, they are also hanging on the walls and assigned as readings.

Story 1: Near the start of the month, The Harvard Crimson published a piece on the homogeneity of the individuals featured in the artwork displayed at Harvard University– and a professor determined to make them more diverse.  As the Crimson confirmed, “[O]f the approximately 750 oil paintings that hang throughout the campus, about 690 of them feature white males. From marble busts to stained glass, Harvard’s art collection is stunningly grand and yet remarkably homogenous.”

A November 2010 post on the Crimson blog Flyby explained the context: “When most Harvard students look around at their peers, they see diversity. Diversity of races, orientations, religions, cultures, ethnicities, and just about anything else is easy to find among students at Harvard. However, there’s one thing at Harvard that isn’t quite so diverse: our walls.”

Story 2: A day after the Crimson portrait piece, The Cornell Daily Sun published an op-ed by a Cornell University professor criticizing the selection of a novel that all freshmen are required to read as “particularly insensitive vis-à-vis diversity issues on campus.”  As he asks, “How are our Arab and Muslim students supposed to read this novel?  Where is their representation in it?  More broadly, what kind of a message does it send to underrepresented ‘minorities’ about their representation on campus?  That is, what kind of a critical inspection did it receive in terms of the diversity baggage it brings with it?”

Questions for Related Reports

Who is featured in the artwork displayed around your campus?  And who created them? What level of diversity do both the creators and creations represent as a whole, in respect to gender, race, ethnicity, class, and even time period?  How are decisions made on which art to purchase and display, and who makes them?  How much say do students have in the selections?  And what is the diversity of the artists and art genres studied within your school’s art program?

Separately, who selects the ‘common readings’ at your school?  What are the criteria for choosing the finalists and ultimate winner?  How much say do students have in the process?  What trends emerge when examining the characteristics of the finalists and winners in recent years, in respect to the diversity or homogeneity of the authors, main characters, the plots’ geographic locations and time periods, and the main themes or worldviews espoused?

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