Here are a few “soft assumptions”, as professor Eboo Patel puts it, that professors might make when meeting their students on the first day of class: These students have good or bad experiences with police, they read a lot or they play video games all the time, their parents were strict or lax, their families prayed before a meal or never sat down for meals together, they like or dislike school, and they’re interested in or ignore politics. Patel says he usually does a quick visual sweep of the room to get a sense of how diverse his class will be, and he remembers his own well-meaning professor who used his assumption that Asian-American students are soft-spoken to create an online discussion forum at a time when it wasn’t very common. The Indian-American Patel challenged this assumption by being a particularly loud-spoken student, demonstrating how, upon further interaction, some assumptions can easily be proven wrong. Nonetheless, Patel says that when he makes assumptions, he forces himself to imagine writing them down and handing them to students– which usually feels pretty uncomfortable.
Come 2019, Cleveland Indians fans will no longer see the racist Native American caricature “Chief Wahoo” on players’ uniforms. But since the team does not plan to change their name or discontinue production and sale of “Chief Wahoo” merchandise, it’s very likely the red-faced mascot will make an appearance in the stands. Fans of the mascot argue that they’re attached to the image and that it summons positive memories from the past few decades. Opponents have been protesting since the seventies, having beer cans thrown at them, being spit on, and being called “Custer-killers” by fans in red-face. They had mixed reactions to the news: Sundance, a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation and executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, makes the point that the team will continue to profit off the racist image and says “It’s a small step in the right direction, but it is just that — a small step” while Adrienne King, a Cherokee writer, writes “Not done fighting, but BIG step.” Ray Halbritter, a member of the Oneida Nation and leader of the “Change the Mascot” campaign, says, “The Cleveland baseball team has rightly recognized that Native Americans do not deserve to be denigrated as cartoon mascots.”
Diversity thought leader Scott E. Page, a professor at the University of Michigan, explains why, mathematically, diversity is better than homogeneity when it comes to solving problems. He says that collaborations between people who each contribute their own unique perspective or approach are usually more successful than collaborations between the ‘best’ people within a given field. In this kind of environment, a special kind of epiphany can occur. Page writes, “They take an existing idea, insight, trick or rule, and apply it in a novel way, or they combine ideas.” He says this is especially true for complex problems, where the principle of meritocracy falls apart because there is no one ‘best’ person who could possibly solve the many facets of the problem themselves. Page argues that composing a team by ranking people based on the same criteria not only leads to homogeneity and less effective problem solving, but also leaves room for bias and “results in people who look like those making the decisions.” He concludes, “If you want to explore things you haven’t explored, having people who look just like you and think just like you is not the best way.”