February 8, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 46°F


Commentary: Students should bring critical eye to ‘diversity’

When the audience walked into Emerson Suites for the “Engaging Communities” speaker on “Reel Diversity,” they smelled the aroma that only Southern fried chicken can produce, bit into vegetable egg rolls and ate off of Ithaca’s best plates. There seemed to be an undeniable impression left by the quality of the event — Ithaca College put on the glitz and glamour for this speech on critical thinking, media literacy and the importance of conversations on diversity among all people.

Brian C. Johnson, an ordained minister, speaker and writer who is an advocate for using film as a medium for framing conversations on diversity, pushed the audience members to be critical of the political and scripted messages set forth through mainstream media and Hollywood. He challenged us to look beyond the simple repetitive plots of mainstream movies in order to buy into his argument: Every script writer is trying to send a political message, and movies are produced in order to yield some type of profit.

File Photo/The IthacanPresident Tom Rochon and Marisa Kelly, provost and vice president of academic affairs, discuss IC 20/20 at a meeting last fall. The plan calls for further implementation of diversity initiatives.

The most enlightening example was when he shed light on the implicit edits and angles in the film “Harold and Kumar Escape Guatanamo Bay.” He said the subtle, quick actions and dialogue revealed a critique of the Patriot Act spearheaded by George Bush. This challenged all of us in the audience to be aware of the implications of his argument; we should be critical of the ideas and messages we take in, including those that subtly tell us difference is a problem and prohibit discussions on diversity because we are told that this dialogue only benefits marginalized groups.

Instead of placing a critical eye on Hollywood alone, we as a campus should take these tools and take a deeper look at the actions and marketing of Ithaca College, tools that are taught in classes with multiple professors already on this campus. Professors including Mo Baptiste, assistant professor of education, who challenges students to “follow the money trail” and be aware that “every writer is trying to sell you something.”

At Ithaca College, it seems that discussions on diversity will always go hand in hand with a reference to our dialogue about IC 20/20. If the speaker and Dr. Baptiste are right that every writer is trying to sell us something, then what is the nonprofit institution of Ithaca College trying to sell to us students, who they want $48,000 every year from? Let’s not get seduced by the pictures of ALANA students on the website and in advertising campaigns, or awesome fried chicken dished out during Black History Month events. The reality is that true pushes for diversity and multicultural awareness will have to come from the student body and our organizations. We need to push for awareness of diversity in solidarity with regards to race, class, gender, sexual orientation and the intersectional nature of all of our unique and complex identities.

Furthermore, we need to place a critical eye on the college. We need to ask whether “Engaging Communities” and IC 20/20 are just efforts to obtain more money, why the language center and pushes for an Asian-American Studies program are struggling and why professors like Dr. Baptiste, who has told students the college is not renewing his contract, are leaving despite the fact that they preach the same messages celebrated last week through what I call “Diversity Entertainment.”

Cedrick-Michael Simmons is a sophomore exploratory major. Email him at csimmon1@ithaca.edu.