Don’t sacrifice diversity for convenience

Despite this, the Black Leadership and Culture Club maintained the tradition by bringing in Wes Moore, one of the most popular speakers in recent years.

It wasn’t his race that made him a great speaker, it was his passions and the eloquence with which he expressed them, as well as the experiences which his race necessarily endowed. In the future, will the school be able to find someone as remarkable as Wes Moore if they are no longer committed to having to provide a Black History Month speaker in the month of February?

Women’s History Month, meanwhile, didn’t fare as well: the assembly is typically organized by the Gender Studies course, which was cancelled this year. With the announcement of this year’s upcoming Brown Family Speaker, A. Scott Berg, it’s official: not one woman will have been at the helm of an all-school assembly this year.

Given the new approach to scheduling assemblies, this may not be an anomaly. Sure, any speaker may have something valid or inspiring to share. However, while all three speakers of this year so far have presented and Berg is sure to present widely varying, fascinating subjects, it’s undeniable that a woman can bring something different to the table than a man.

As the Assembly Committee and administration finesse the new process, they must make sure to remember to prioritize speakers who have a diversity of thought, speakers from whom students can learn and also identify with. There is nothing wrong in bringing in a great speaker who happens to be a straight white man. After all, diversity of thought is naturally shaped by any sort of experience or situation, but is certainly and inherently shaped by race, sexuality and gender.

This doesn’t mean such speakers need to address those subjects. Berg’s value as a speaker comes from his work as a Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling biographer. But he’s also gay, and some of his work was influenced by his sexuality–he wrote the story for the first mainstream Hollywood film that addressed homosexuality, being closeted and coming out.

Whether this was intentional or not, this is the sort of diversity of thought that the new approach to assemblies has the potential to encourage. Berg does not have to be and will not be a gay speaker talking specifically about his sexuality, and although such assemblies specifically about LGBTQ experiences are valuable and necessary, not every LGBTQ speaker must do so, just like not every woman speaker needs to talk solely about her gender. It’s simply that in the past, Women’s History and Black History Month assemblies were good reminders to even remember to bring in women and African-Americans. The new approach can give the school more freedom to seek out all types of people as speakers without having to pigeonhole them into one aspect of their identity.

In the past, the commitment towards Black History and Women’s History speakers has naturally resulted in such speakers and often in some of the year’s best speakers, like Moore. Now that we lack that helping hand, we must be more aware of these factors than ever.

The ugly truth is that if you don’t make sure to include people who are female, of color or LGBTQ-identified, you will forget about them. A study by the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media found that if a group of people is 17 percent female, men will think the composition of men and women is 50-50, while a group that is 33 percent female will be perceived by men as more than 50 percent female. (Actress and women’s rights activist Geena Davis was the 2010 Women’s History speaker.)

What this means is that people often think they’re being “inclusive” or “equal” when they’re not. Assembly scheduling can’t be a complacent—the committee must work at scheduling a rich lineup of compelling speakers with diverse experiences that different students can relate to and enjoy and, most importantly, learn from. After all, the main purpose of these all-school assemblies is for students and faculty to receive the sort of non-academic education they’re not getting in the classroom.

It’s great that the school is more dedicated to simply getting great speakers. But factoring in diversity will not hurt this effort—the assembly of another lauded speaker, last year’s John Amaechi, was organized by the GSA and the BLACC. In fact, their success in doing so will be more assured if they do so.