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From Our Desk: Diversity Matters


From Alexander Carpenter, executive editor:

When we published our reporting about the new president of Andrews University, the editor-in-chief of the campus paper, The Student Movement, sent over a quote for an article. It came too late for what we published then, but I’m sharing Alannah Tjhatra’s words now because she gets to the heart of the issue.

Everywhere I look on the Andrews campus, I see diversity. I get to meet people from all backgrounds and walks of life—individuals who constitute different cultures, beliefs, languages, sexualities, genders. These are the students who make up our university; these are the voices that make Andrews so unique. Because of this, we also need a president who is willing to prioritize these voices—someone who brings a nuanced, intersectional view to this leadership position; someone who seeks to connect with the university's students on a personal and compassionate level. I think our diversity is at the core of what makes Andrews what it is. And a leader who understands that, and seeks to unite our campus under this understanding, would be perfect for the job.

In his first public communication, President-elect John Wesley Taylor V missed the mark. Taylor wrote about his wish to “nurture a multicultural community.” Unfortunately, that’s a poor choice of words and/or a limited vision. According to the Spring Institute, which does training and consulting for corporations and the US government, “Multicultural refers to a society that contains several cultural or ethnic groups. People live alongside one another, but each cultural group does not necessarily have engaging interactions with each other. For example, in a multicultural neighborhood people may frequent ethnic grocery stores and restaurants without really interacting with their neighbors from other countries.”

As Tjhatra writes, a leader of Andrews University needs to understand its diversity at an intersectional level. Intercultural relatedness would be a better vision for a campus that aims to honor the family of God. As the Spring Institute notes, “Intercultural describes communities in which there is a deep understanding and respect for all cultures. Intercultural communication focuses on the mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms and the development of deep relationships. In an intercultural society, no one is left unchanged because everyone learns from one another and grows together.”

Taylor, who has spent much of his career talking about teaching, might need to take a class from his new students.


From Carmen Lau, board chair:

Last week, I attended a lecture by Frans de Waal, “Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist,” based on his new book, Different. His words, delivered with care, did not claim too much, but, instead, he spoke of his observations, saying even a primatologist cannot speak definitively about this complex topic. I thought I would share some notes from the talk.

Sex is mostly binary, but not always. Gender is the cultural expression that uses masculine and feminine with fluidity according to place and time. Sex and gender are different but connected. Studies on primates are not purely biological, as primates live in culture. De Waal has seen gender fluidity in bonobos and chimpanzees. For example, Donna is a gender-nonconforming female who has developed a body habitus like males. She spends her day with males, and her personality has similar traits.

Typically, young primates learn diet and food gathering methods from older community members of the same gender. Male and female primates, with typical gender conformity, play with toy dolls in different ways. He describes the chimpanzee alpha male as one who takes on the role of breaking up fights and ensuring the safety of the group. This is not the self-centered alpha male that has become a trope, rather this societal role involves great responsibility. He has seen no observable differences in intelligence in male and female apes. In fact, he has seen several instances of female ingenuity, including a famous incident in which female chimps took down a drone. Every bonobo group in captivity is led by a female in coalition with other females.

De Waal has observed loyalty, care, and cooperation in ape society, and he questions why humans enact barriers instead of cooperating and caring for people who are homosexual and gender nonconforming. He sees tolerance for gender divergence in primates. Homosexual behavior is common in apes, with all bonobos being bisexual. He hypothesizes that since humans are normative and linguistic, they tend to label differences, and this becomes a barrier to peaceful, respectful coexistence. He suggests that humans would be wise to focus on gender inequities, instead of labeling, as a pathway to defuse the topic.

Life is complicated. Let’s be on the side of justice for all.


Image credit: W. W. Norton

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