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ACRL and “diversity”: A rainbow has more than one color

Rainbow by Flickr user Proggie

Rainbow by Flickr user Proggie

My Place Of Work is one of the most diverse universities in the United States. That’s a fact we’re very proud of, and it’s an environment I enjoy. Diversity was a matter-of-fact reality in the middle-class San Francisco neighborhood I grew up in, and throughout my life, when I’ve been in environments flavored with only one or two dominant ethnic groups, I have missed God’s rainbow.

So when friends recommended the rather spendy but well-regarded ACRL-Harvard institute for new academic directors, I was intrigued to see that ACRL offered a “diversity” scholarship, until I read the fine print:

ACRL is pleased to announce the availability of a scholarship to support participation at the 2010 ACRL/Harvard Leadership Institute. The scholarship covers the cost of tuition ($2,600) and a $1,500 travel stipend. In support of ACRL’s commitment to librarians serving diverse communities, the scholarship is for individuals currently working in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges or Universities, or those employed at Hispanic Serving Institutions.

In other words, ACRL’s “diversity” is limited to institutions serving dominant majorities of ethnic groups.

I have no quarrel with these universities being eligible for this scholarship. I went to a women’s college (well, two, to be precise–Mills and then Barnard) because I was seeking my own “dominant majority” experience, and I appreciate how important that can be, and I salute ACRL for their attention to these institutions.

But ACRL should think beyond such a narrow definition of diversity and include institutions that are doing the very hard work of serving highly diverse student bodies.

We have challenges at MPOW: many of our students are first-generation college students; many arrive woefully unprepared for their first year of college; many struggle financially. We also have strengths, perhaps the most notable being the ineffable benefits–professionally, but also spiritually–of living, studying, and working inside this numinous rainbow.

For that matter, why not add income level to the mix? Those of us in higher ed know the powerful ties between family income level and risk factors for student success. Isn’t economic status its own diversity challenge–the issue that Martin Luther King graduated to in his last years on this planet?

Not only that, but some schools have more money than others, and tuition-dependent schools serving first-generation students are the least likely to have $4100 sitting around. I feel very well supported by MPOW–this is the best library job I’ve ever had–but the need is great in so many directions here, and I’ve already been cannibalizing important line items to do things like update our ancient public computers, last “refreshed” in 2002 and 2004.  I’ve already robbed Peter to pay Paul, and I can’t turn around and hit up Mary for some dinero.

ACRL means well, but if it were truly committed to “librarians serving diverse communities,” it would broaden its definition of “diversity.” Meanwhile, I’ll keep scraping together my leadership education from my peers at equally diverse universities, while I continue enjoying life within the rainbow’s beautiful spectrum.

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