Last week, an Erickson Dining Hall employee allegedly destroyed table tents advertising Spectrum’s Awareness Week on Miami University’s campus because she did not personally agree with the message of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender acceptance. The Miami Student editorial board finds this act to be troubling and indicative of lingering ignorance and close-mindedness on Miami’s campus. While the dining hall employee’s actions do not reflect the opinions of every student and staff member, this is far from an isolated attitude on campus and the Miami community should continue to take measures to foster an environment of understanding among the student body’s various cultures and lifestyles.
One step the university has taken to increase tolerance has been the recent creation of the position of associate vice-president for institutional diversity. The creation of such a position is a positive move for the university, however, so far it has done little to visibly improve understanding on Miami’s campus. Bureaucracy alone is not a solution for changing the preconceived notions many Miami students bring with them to college. Rather, understanding is fostered by providing students with greater opportunities to interact with people from differing backgrounds and more steps must be taken in order to achieve a majority-minority dialogue.
Additionally, Miami currently offers a number of diversity dorms to promote tolerance, and these have effectively created a welcoming environment for those from different cultures and lifestyles. However, these halls can also have the effect of sequestering those who are already accepting of diversity in common halls. This in turn works against fostering the type of interaction among groups that breaks down prejudices and close-minded attitudes.
A possible alternative would be to incorporate a one-credit hour cultural awareness course as a graduation requirement. Such a course would help open the eyes of students to cultures and beliefs that they may not have been previously exposed to. The cultural course could be modeled after the version that diversity dorm members must take.
The undergraduate experience at Miami is currently being held back by students’ ignorance toward others from different backgrounds and lifestyles. Miami must work to challenge these notions and educate students about other people. While Miami has adopted welcoming policies such as the domestic partner benefits program, created an administrative office dedicated to cultural awareness and encouraged first-years to live in diversity dorms, ultimately only greater cross-cultural interaction will make the academic environment welcoming for all. Demonstrating basic respect for the expression of differing beliefs is the first step to changing Miami’s culture of intolerance.