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Take a closer look at diversity

| Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Talking about diversity is second nature for me. Yes, I am a white, Catholic American (though I don’t really consider myself Catholic any longer), but my life experiences and upbringing have left with an innate sense of how important diversity is. I was born and raised in Hawaii, a place about as cosmopolitan and diverse as they come. Tolerance was the norm, and it always seemed absurd to me that people could discriminate on the basis of ethnicity. Sure, there were jokes about the habits of different ethnic groups; indeed, as a white person, or “haole,” I was often on the receiving end of such comments. But no one took it to heart. We learned how to laugh at ourselves, realized that such generalizations were ridiculous, and shared in a collective identity that bridged our differences.

The fact that so many people in Hawaii are hapa, or mixed-race, also played a role in forming my outlook on race relations. To me, it was never odd to see interracial couples or to have friends who were Hawaiian/Japanese/Chinese/Irish. I myself have eight different ethnicities, albeit all white (Irish, Polish, Swedish, Bohemian, German, Belgian, Croatian and English – a veritable European mutt), and many of my friends could best even that. In high school, I was certainly an ethnic minority in the classroom. My high school graduating class was probably about 90 percent Asian, or “hapa.” That being said, I never felt uncomfortable because of this. Again, there were always jokes from my friends (furthered by the fact that I can’t tan; I burn, peel and am whiter than I was before), but they never had malicious intent.

Diversity has also been ever-present in my family situation. I have three siblings – one sister, Michelle (30), and two brothers, Patrick (27) and Sean (23). Michelle, Sean and I are all biological children of my parents, but Pat was adopted from South Korea as a baby. My father was in the Peace Corps in Korea, has many friends there and speaks fluent Korean. In addition, my family lived in Seoul for two years before I was born. So when my parents decided to adopt, they began looking for options in Korea. Sometimes people ask me if it’s odd to have a brother of another race. To be honest, I never really think of it in those terms. Pat is my brother; that’s all there is to it. When I introduce people to Pat, I never feel like an explanation is necessary. When I’m alone with those people again and they look at me with perplexed expressions, I never know what they’re confused about. Inevitably they ask me how Pat came to be a part of the family, and then I understand and explain.

I remember several instances where either I was talking with my mom or she was talking to a group of people and she would mention her “three pregnancies.” This always threw me off, because I naturally assumed that with three siblings and myself, she’d have been pregnant four times. After a moment, I’d realize my mistake. I always felt good about naturally assuming things that way.

Notre Dame has been quite an adjustment in terms of diversity. I’ve never seen so many white people in my life. This does not mean, however, that Notre Dame is not a somewhat diverse place. Are there a lot of rich, white, conservative, Catholic kids who have enjoyed similar life experiences? Sure. But they’re not necessarily the majority. And even among this group, one can find diversity if one looks for it. I think the greatest problems we have here at Notre Dame are a lack of dialogue and interaction between people of different backgrounds and detrimental preconceptions on all sides of the issues of diversity. One of my principal frustrations is that I often feel prejudged because of my race. People look at me and see “just another white kid.” First of all, not all white people can be lumped into one homogenous group. And second of all, I do know what it is like to go through life as an ethnic minority, though I certainly didn’t suffer from discrimination the way so many other ethnic minorities do. Open-mindedness is essential to our learning and getting to know one another.

I’d be lying if I said I was “colorblind.” On the contrary, growing up in Hawaii taught me to see color as beautiful. It’s an important part of who we are, but it also shouldn’t be the single word that comes to mind when we describe ourselves.

Notre Dame must make a more conscious effort to foster and increase all types of diversity on campus – racial, international, religious, political, sexual, etc. In the meantime, however, let’s make the most of what we have. It’s Diversity Awareness Week. So look around at your friends, find differences and talk about them. If you’ve got nothing to talk about, then you’ve finally found the problem.

Brian Klein


Morrissey Hall

Feb. 1