Pluralism is the energetic engagement with diversity, by Andrew Damian `11
Do you remember when you first came to Beloit? All the excitement that went hand in hand with meeting new people and learning new things from different individuals? Do you still feel that excitement today? You probably fell into a social group, and it was good because you found your ‘clique’ right? But have you ever noticed what “falling into a clique” does to the social dynamics at Beloit? For the most part, athlete’s hang out with other athletes, Christians with other Christians, hipsters with other hipsters, international students with other international students, drinkers with other drinkers, new students with other new students. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, in fact, it is good that we can find others who share common interests with us. But because of this social norm and the amount of in-groups that exist, we rarely meet new people! Think about the social pressure’s that keep us from meeting new people. The social norm, that exists to keep us all feeling comfortable, is to stay in our own cliques, and we often feel this social pressure unconsciously keeping us from reaching out to talk to someone else, or sit with someone new at commons.
At Beloit it would almost seem to me that we don’t want to connect with others, and maybe that is the case for some. However, I can’t help but find myself sitting around and thinking about the social dynamics at Beloit College. I think about the obvious disconnect between social groups and individuals. The disconnect between Beloit’s academic life and its’ residential life.
Take the Beloit classroom experience for example. The room consists of anywhere from ten to thirty rather diverse individuals, from mostly different geographical and cultural backgrounds. Try to recall a time when a class discussion was extremely influential and informative. How often do discussions in class actually excite your imagination and creativity? Is not the goal of class discussion (and school in general) to produce a complete understanding of a subject by examining it from different societal and cultural lenses? But is this the case at Beloit College? I’ve noticed that when diverse individuals come together in a classroom, it’s not always so easy to have everyone commit to the discussion. When the classroom is made up of unfamiliar faces, who may be uncomfortable with each other, the class discussions often become stagnant. On the other hand, however, you might notice that you often feel much more comfortable talking with friends, which consequentially leads to more fulfilling discussions. But are you really that different from your friends? And why do we so often feel uncomfortable and afraid to say what we believe in class anyway? If we can’t feel free to speak up about our beliefs in class, where will it happen? In class a diverse group of individuals come together to share information and perspectives, and if we’re not comfortable together how can anything come of it? When we leave class we go back to our rooms, and we no longer have the classroom medium to share and learn from each other.
Everyday I wake up, I wish to re-experience the celebration of differences that goes hand in hand with going to college and meeting new people. But, how can we observe our differences unless we actually have the nerve to discuss them. Well, the obvious wall that faces us here is the conflict of interest. We all obviously fall into cliques to find those who share common interests with us, and that is a good thing. But it is extremely important to realize that cliques often solidify, and that is what bothers me. Cliques should be more open ended and changing, like a flux of friends that come and go. Think about it; at Beloit when cliques solidify, which they do, how do you know you fell into the right one? Maybe there is someone you think you’d get along with well but because they are in a different clique you feel that you can’t approach them. I don’t know about you but I’d be very interested to hear what others have to say. In fact, whenever I converse with others I not only learn more about them and myself, but I also become deeply satisfied with my social and personal life. Why do I feel more satisfied socially and personally when conversing with diverse people?
The answer to that question is hiding within the process of discussion itself. We must all acknowledge and remember that the very root of discussion is indeed, transformation. We listen, we talk, we learn, we teach, we grow and we transform our lives through language. In my experience, true satisfaction lies within the process of discussion itself, the process is the goal, not the end!
I read this in my social psychology textbook, its extremely relevant. “Human nature is profoundly social and is shaped by our relationships. Relationships, do in fact, exert a powerful influence upon how we define our selves, what we remember, and the attributions we make.” The author went on to explain how relationships shape our emotions, our self image and how we act amongst and with others. The social psychological perspective gives new light to the phenomenon of relationships. “Relationships are generally characterized by an interdependence in which the individuals think about, influence and engage in joint activates or have joint memories of shared experiences. [We] remain in close relationships to expand the self by including resources, perspectives, experiences and characteristics of the other as part of [our] own self-concept. We enter into relationships, in effect, to create a more complete self. One implication of this perspective is that, in the course of relationships, our self and our representation of close others should merge.” For me, this most certainly rings true. My relationships shape who I am and I try to expand and attain my self image through others. When a close friend leaves, I often feel a small part of myself has gone too. I also see how previous significant relationships I’ve had shape how I currently interact with new people. This research, I personally believe, supports an already obvious truth; the more we actively relate to others the more we know, grow and be the best we can. And the more we engage in relationships with others, the more we expand our self, our awareness and our ability to interact with new individuals. Think about it, do you see similarities between your self image and the image of your close friends? Would meeting new people expand your self image? How do you in-turn shape others? What are the benefits of meeting new people?
When I think about trying to connect and converse with others I often find it is a two way street. Have you ever tried speaking up only to have someone jab at your opinion? It hurts doesn’t it!? It is my personal opinion that real transformation happens when you are so confident in yourself that you are willing to speak up. You are not afraid that others will hurt you because you don’t take anything personally. You are so confident that you can put your own beliefs down momentarily to actually listen and fully understand others’ opinions. Maybe they said something mean to you, but maybe it was because they simply saw things differently, or they were confused. How could you know unless you listened to them? Through this connection with others a transformation can happen. In my opinion, transformation should not be feared but revered. Transformation is the flow of life; we grow, we expand, we revolutionize and we progress towards greater security and satisfaction through conversation.
And this brings me back to Beloit College, which is filled with individuals who have gone through things I never could’ve imagined. What drew me to Beloit in the first place was its diverse student body, but why aren’t we rejoicing in our unique life differences? This change of attitude that I’m suggesting, which is to connect with others, needs an environment that can sustain it, a place to begin and to grow. Outside of the classroom discussion, there is no platform to support this interpersonal dialogue, except for the weekend party scene where hopefully Beloit students actually come out into the cold to converse and share information, emotions and experiences together. Though this medium is filled with drunk individuals who forget most conversations anyway. At Beloit College, we need a place where life changing experiences can happen, experiences that we whole heartedly take away with us when we leave.
Pluralism is the energetic engagement with diversity, so I want to make pluralism happen on campus. I know it is only a small step but I’ve decided to make another platform for diverse individuals to come together. This platform will be a discussion based medium, it is not on the weekend and it will not be forgotten.
Are you daring enough to say what you believe without trying to convince or convert others, and without trying to prove how others’ beliefs are wrong? Are you daring enough to take part in a discussion where transformation is possible? Then take part in A Courageous Discussion, this Thursday February the 25th in Weeks Lounge, from 9:05pm to 10:30. Sponsored by Spiritual Life Program.