Why Economic Diversity Matters

Some once derided the place I teach at, Pacific Lutheran University, or “PLU”, as “People Like Us”. I’m happy to report PLU is doing a much better job recruiting diverse students who look a lot more like their Pierce County peers. Which makes teaching about writing and multiculturalism a whole lot more fun because the students regularly enlighten one another with their very different life experiences.

Case in point. The other day we were discussing the concept of “social infrastructure” or the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact. Specifically, public libraries. The question was where would we be without them. To which Lizveth said, “I have four siblings and we have one computer and no printer. Whenever I had to print something in high school, I headed straight to the library.”

Lizveth, the first in her family to attend college, is one of my top students. Her future is bright. The beauty of her story was how she told it. Wonderfully matter-of-factly. The subtext, “There’s way more to me than my family’s economic struggles.”

It’s hard to understate the importance of Lizveth’s abbreviated story. Especially for middle and upper middle class students who have few frames of reference for thinking about their relative privilege.

In 23 words she taught everyone more about economic privilege than I have all semester. If they were truly listening.