“USA, USA, USA” chanted the fans of the Beta fraternity team in at an Emory University intramural volleyball championship. The team they were playing was predominantly Asian-American. The cheers presumed that the Asian team was somehow foreign, whereas the fraternity team represented the “USA.” Asian-American students decried this chant writing a piece for the school newspaper, “Beta’s Cheers are Offensive.” In this piece the authors stated, ““USA! USA! USA!” cheered the Beta fans with their fists pumping in the air as they chanted again and again. Suddenly, our yellow skin, black hair and Asian heritage became the target of this subtle, yet jarring taunt. With each declaration, we felt more alienated. Suddenly, we weren’t Americans, born and raised, but “Others” who didn’t belong.”
Administrators at Emory forcefully supported the Asian-American students writing in a letter to the editor that began, “Picking on someone because of their ancestry and national origin is always wrong and always unacceptable behavior at Emory.”
What struck me though about this situation were the references in both pieces to all the work Emory has done around diversity. The first piece by the students describes the school’s, “Diversity Profile that outlines Emory University Composition Statistics. This 52-page, multi-colored document is meant to indicate just how diverse Emory is, with students coming from every state in the United States as well as 140 different countries.”
The administrators’ letter to the editor ends, “We remind our community of the University’s Discriminatory Harassment Policy, the Residence Life and Housing’s Acts of Intolerance Policy, and the Student Conduct Policies regarding ‘Respect and Consideration’ that may be accessed at http://conduct.emory.edu/policies/code/index.html Students can readily access staff in Residence Life, LGBT Life, OMPS, Office of Student Conduct and Office of Community and Diversity/EOP to seek support and investigation. Again, we’re all part of the Emory community.” Clearly Emory has an impressive set of policies and structures established around diversity and multiculturalism.
This event shows how diversity is an ongoing process not a goal or an end. Having impressive student numbers, staffing and programming is not enough. The work of education is never complete in any institution. Moreover, there is always the risk of the doughnut. There is the risk that there will be a sweet, delectable circle of publications, policies, recruitment strategies, officials, and offices ringing an empty space. That empty space is where students actually interact. It is life. It is the multitude of interpersonal interactions that cannot be predicted, managed or controlled. It is fans chanting at an intramural volleyball game.