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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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4 Comments

  1. Elita wrote:

    I believe they are using the word “diversity” but really mean “minorities.” The scholarship is to help the actual librarian, not necessarily the population they serve. They want to see more Black, Hispanic and Tribal LIBRARIANS be able to attend this conference and that’s why they’re offering the scholarship to those types of universities. If you work at an HBCU, you’re probably black. If you work at a Hispanic Serving Institution, you’re probably Hispanic. Althought your place of employment may be a veritable Rainbow Coalition when it comes to the student population, how many of the staff librarians are of color? We all know most librarians are white so most library staffs lack “diversity,” because they employ few people of color. I have always been either the only black librarian at work, or one of two.

    Monday, April 26, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink
  2. Our library is 35% people of color–a higher percentage if you factor in student workers. I think it’s an error to say that was their intent–it would be like focusing the Spectrum Scholarships on HBCUs instead of on individuals.

    While I support the idea that more librarians of color should be recruited for leadership institutes, those of us who elect to work in institutions serving highly diverse groups should also be supported.

    Monday, April 26, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  3. Ericka wrote:

    I applaud ACRL’s decision to target these underrepresented groups this year; perhaps they will target different groups next time. Outreach to groups that would not or cannot consider attendance at this institute is very important. I agree that the statement “commitment to librarians serving diverse communities” is misleading in this context.

    Friday, April 30, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  4. “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.”

    Yes. That. All of that. There are so many diversities of experience and identity to consider…

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

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