Art by Sacha Irick
What can we say about the Miley Cyrus VMA performance? Trashy? Maybe. Controversial? Most definitely. Beaten to death by the media? Absolutely. But what should we really be focusing on here?
Unfortunately, the Miley Cyrus conversation spilled over into the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
MLK dreamed of equality and acceptance, but we can safely say he didn’t dream of a VMA performance overshadowing the conversation about how far we’ve come. Instead, people couldn’t stop talking about how “We Can’t Stop” set the country back 50 years. What should have been more widely commemorated last week was the legacy and the dream that MLK set forth for future generations.
Pepperdine has a dense history for being only 76 years old. When George Pepperdine founded the school, it stood where the Crenshaw Christian Center is now, in an area extremely different from Malibu.
Terrence Roberts of the Little Rock Nine visited campus last January and explained that segregation still exists at colleges. Look around Pepperdine, and it’s easy to notice people of the same ethnicity hanging around each other — and that applies not only to Asians, Blacks and other minority groups but also Caucasians.
This year, Pepperdine’s student population of approximately 3,100 is 50 percent diverse for the first time ever. While the statistic screams progress, the climbing numbers mean nothing if racial groups remain separated.
As students, it’s important to remember that attaining a cohesive university population depends on us. Having a diverse student body isn’t just for looks. A diverse student body is meant to introduce perspectives and worldviews different from our own. We must open ourselves up to differences rather than being afraid of them.
International students constitute 9.6 percent of the Seaver population. The issue lying within that is the difficulty international students are having in integrating with their American colleagues.
Chinese international student junior Albert Long explained that making friends was tough at first because of the language barrier.
“But it eventually got easier because my language skills grew, and I started understanding the local culture. Of course it’s very easy to stick with Chinese people because we share the same language and culture,” Long said.
Time is always the best solution, but time is of the essence when trying to graduate in four years. The problem for international students struggling to make American friends is no one’s fault, but there may be a few solutions.
The first, being the most obvious, is that everyone needs to be patient and open-minded to other cultures. The second would perhaps be the creation of a two-week intensive English class for international students.
In the majority of the international programs, students go through intense language courses so they can more easily assimilate; the same could be done in Malibu — not in the forced mindset of “to make friends, act American,” but in the welcoming sense of a brief, fun introduction to American language and culture.
In addition to students on campus, another group with an impact on the Pepperdine experience is the faculty. While student diversity numbers continue to increase, the faculty demographics remain stagnant.
Around 2010, Pepperdine received money specifically for opportunity hires. In other words, the school was given funds to create positions for new professors. According to Seaver Dean Rick Marrs, it marked the first real instance the university began proactively changing up faculty demographics. From that initiative, Marrs said they picked up around “half a dozen” new minority staff members.
The problem is that the ideal candidate pool Pepperdine is trying to draw from is fairly small, and the candidates in it are heavily recruited because every school wants to increase faculty diversity.
The goal is noble: to reach a point in time “when students (can) look at the faculty and see a diversity that matches what they see in their fellow students,” Marrs said. “You have a much better education when you have diversity. It helps us all have a better understanding.”
Marrs describes the faculty diversity percentages as “pretty low. It’s inching up a little; it’s a challenge.”
This challenge, in part, lies in the foundation of why the pool is small: the treatment of minorities throughout American history. Opportunity has been weak or nonexistent — and still is — for many minorities to reach a position where they would be applicable candidates for the pool from which colleges and universities wish to draw.
Ignorance of other cultures, discrimination and prejudice lie at the heart of this issue. This is why a diverse student and faculty body is important. If we’re exposed to cultures and languages different from our own, our worldview is expanded and ignorance lessens.
We must not look at “50 percent diverse” and applaud. We should be proactive and take this chance to open up to the differences around us.
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As published in the Sept. 5 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.