Dr. Ramasubramanian brings Difficult Diversity Initiative to Emerson

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Photo: CG

Dr. Ramasubramanian speaks about her Difficult Dialogues Initiative to room of Emerson graduate students. Irka Gonzalez / Beacon Correspondent

By Faith Bugenhagen

An initiative created by a Texas A&M University professor attempts to mediate racial discourse on college campuses across the United States by utilizing a five-step dialectic approach. 

The Difficult Diversity Initiative effectuates courage, commitment, compassion, compromise, and collaboration to facilitate in-depth conversations pertaining to diversity and inclusion on campus. Professor Srividya Ramasubramanian leads these conversations, with group facilitators who assist her throughout these discussions. 

Ramasubramanian presented the Difficult Diversity Initiative to a group of Emerson College graduate students on Tuesday at a session put together by the Journalism Department. Ramasubramanian said she implemented the program after she heard about racist comments made towards a group of prospective African-American students on her campus.

“Maybe an African-American professor is walking from his lab on campus and somebody calls the police and says there is a suspicious person walking around, and then that becomes a racist incident that is talked and discussed about on a campus newspaper as a story, but then you forget about that,” she said to the graduate students. “Six months later, something else happens, but then you eventually forget about that too.” 

She said she constructed the plan because she felt as if many colleges treat diversity and inclusion like superficial concerns—having communities where they encourage these concepts, but don’t implement any concrete policies.

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“Another challenge I have noticed at the institutional level is that diversity is often commodified, so there will be a celebration in a very multicultural way—let’s have a food festival and let us create some money from that—that is what diversity could translate as, multiculturalism,” Ramasubramanian said.

The Texas A&M professor said she understands that lack of conversation is not just a localized issue. She also recognizes that attempting to deconstruct the mold of racial discourse is a challenging feat.

Although she acknowledges the difficulty, Ramasubramanian emphasized the personal responsibility each individual, of any kind of community, has to ensure that conversations pertaining to diversity and inclusion are existent. 

Ramasubramanian said the one-dimensionality of tackling diversity and inclusion, addressing the fact that often institutions believe that they are successively breaking down barriers, when in reality they are not tackling each specific obstacle.

The professor said she understands that the context and culture within her university as a whole is entirely different than that of Emerson’s community. However, she also acknowledges the fact that racism is existent within every social sphere on a global scale. 

“I feel that even though the Texas context that I talked about might be different, racism is a foundation of United States culture, even if it’s Emerson, or Texas A&M, or any other university,” Ramasubramanian said. “There is racist-underlying history that we still have to reconcile, and sometimes it’s at the surface level, and sometimes it’s very overt.”

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