Panel discusses importance of diversity in democracy

Education Prof. Castleman says childhood factors determine adult participation


The Democracy Network hosted a panel on diversity in democracy Wednesday night to discuss the participation, enfranchisement and disillusionment of diverse groups in politics.

The panel consisted of LGBTQ Center Coordinator Scott Rheinheimer, Patrice Grimes, an African-American Affairs associate dean, Asst. Education Prof. Ben Castleman and Education graduate student Janelle Peifer.

“We want to provide a space to have conversations that aren’t usually had about politics and that don’t usually come up in mainstream political conversations,” said third-year College student Sky Miller, director of the Democracy Network. “[Diversity] I think is a topic, but definitely intellectually, not one that often comes up unless you’re in a class that covers that topic. Having that as a discussion is really important.”

The Democracy Network focused its look at the issue on an academic, rather than a political, perspective.

“I think it’s a very interesting perspective to have actual educators be the ones talking about diversity in democracy as opposed to politics professors and people who deal with the overall governmental structure,” said first-year College student Aryn Frazier, Democracy Network education committee chair.

Diversity in democracy, Rheinheimer said, adds an important level of discourse to debate.

“Diversity adds many different perspectives,” he said. “[It allows] people of different backgrounds to come together about issues.”

Castleman said inequality does not bode well for democracy.

“The process of disenfranchisement is perpetuated at a young age,” he said. “This continues into secondary school and even college.”

Castleman said by the time people are 18 or 20 years old, their ability to engage in political discourse is largely shaped by factors they didn’t control around the age of 2 or 3.

“Without diversity there’s no way to truly represent this nation in particular,” Peifer said. “[The] inability to have discourse in education makes it even more difficult to place what the barriers are for these people to be engaged.”

The panel was also asked how they would connect learned helplessness to political activity of minority groups.

“A lot of it has to do with how we teach our students or how we don’t teach our students,” Grimes said. “So much of it goes back to education.”

The very term “learned helplessness,” however, caused discomfort and discussion among panel members.

“Learned helplessness implies passivity,” Grimes said. She said what some people may see as learned helplessness among minority groups may instead be an active choice of disengagement, which would itself be a type of activism.

Both Grimes and Castleman agreed technology, especially in education, can help promote discourse among disenfranchised and diverse groups. All panelists said there must be the support of allies to promote the discourse of diversity.

Grimes said having diversity is “about [the] exposure you can give to others.” She said one of the challenges at the University is breaking stereotypes and walking out “saying that you met people who were different than you.”

The Democracy Network hopes to broaden the understanding of diversity in democracy through future events.

“The reason it’s most important to attend is the fact that this event wasn’t extremely well attended,” Frazier said, “which means that there aren’t very many people who are getting this information in their classes and their daily conversations.”

Published April 17, 2014 in FP test, News

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