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    A big hole in NW diversity

    We are making strides on ethnicity and sexual orientation. But Seattle and Portland forget one part of the equation.
    A diversity conference in Oregon

    A diversity conference in Oregon Oregon Department of Transportation/Flickr

    Goats graze on a ridge at the edge of Zumwalt Prairie in Eastern Oregon's Wallowas.

    Goats graze on a ridge at the edge of Zumwalt Prairie in Eastern Oregon's Wallowas. RV Taylor/The Nature Conservancy

    After all these years, it is still somehow an unnexpected miracle, a rich soul-feeding surprise. “Summer Fishtrap: A Gathering of Writers” held its 27th year gathering in the Wallowa Mountains of Eastern Oregon last week. This year’s theme, inspired by a poem of the late William Stafford, was, “What the River Says: The Art of Listening in a Turbulent World.”

    During the day at Fishtrap writers take part in classes and workshops. In the evening, the faculty read from their work. After dinner we walk the half-mile from our cabin to the Methodist Camp, the site of Fishtrap, to take in the evening readings which are open for the public.

    As the sun set in pinks and reds over Joseph Mountain, and the heat of day gave way to the cooler evening, we listened to such wonderful writers as Teresa Jordan, Kim Stafford, Luis Alberto Urrea, Kim Barnes and Naomi Shihab Nye. Past years have included David James Duncan, Cheryl Strayed, William Kittredge and more.

    Similar to many other events and organizations these days, it seems there’s an effort at Fishtrap to encourage racial and ethnic diversity among the participants and the faculty.

    In particular, I noticed this year how often we were reminded of the mixed parentage of various writers. Keynoter Naomi Shihab Nye was “born to a Palestinian father and American mother.” Slam poet Anis Mojgani’s “father was Persian and his mother African-American.” Luis Alberto Urea, was “born in Tijuana, Mexico, to an American mother and a Mexican father.”

    Such information can be useful. It provides perspective on the work of poets and novelists who explore the intersections of culture as well as questions of identity. But it also felt, at least at times, like a self-conscious effort to establish Fishtrap’s diversity bonafides.

    Is that a problem? It becomes a problem when racial/ethnic diversity eclipses or is substituted for diversity of thought, political leaning and philosophy. As lovely as Fishtrap is, there is a way in which it feels as if it is an incursion from liberal or progressive Portland or Seattle, San Francisco or Missoula. There’s racial and ethnic diversity, but in other respects Fishtrap feels like a bubble, a safe haven for progressives amid the more conservative culture of Eastern Oregon.

    I experience something similar to this in the denomination in which I am an ordained minister, The United Church of Christ. We, too, work hard at racial/ethnic diversity, as well as diversity of gender and sexual orientation. In church leadership and in the lineup of speakers at events such as our General Synod or regional assemblies we strive for diversity ... to a point.

    Although the United Church of Christ is heavily Caucasian in overall membership, we work to forward African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans into public roles, along men and women who are gay or lesbian. That’s good as far as it goes.

    But often it seems to go no further. That is, the more visible diversity of race and ethnicity is encouraged, but not so with diversity of thought or theology, politics or philosophy. There we tend toward a liberal or progressive uniformity.

    This seems to me a dilemma or challenge for many groups and in many settings these days. While a visible diversity is prized, there may be less welcome or tolerance for people of different views on the issues of the day, whether they be abortion or gun control, legalization of marijuana or charter schools. We risk, and this is certainly true for both sides of political spectrum, dwelling in enclaves of limited, even pseudo diversity. Many colors, but not so many thoughts.

    Can our longing for diversity be expanded beyond the categories of race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, to include thought, philosophy, politics and economics?

    One of the very best books about Oregon’s rural Wallowa County, where Fishtrap takes place and where my family has its roots and a summer cabin, is Marcy Houle’s The Prairie Keepers: Secrets of the Zumwalt. Houle is a Portland-based wildlife biologist, who as young woman came to live in Wallowa County in order to study one of its most-intriguing landscapes, the Zumwalt Prairie.

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    Posted Fri, Jul 18, 7:42 a.m. Inappropriate

    The desire to include a very wide range of characteristics, like thinking styles, in discussions of diversity is common. However, by defining diversity too broadly, it makes the discussion meaningless and waters down the goal of expanding social equity.


    Posted Fri, Jul 18, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    I agree with Tebetsy, it surprised me to read that Mr. Robinson was referring to a different kind of diversity. A nice surprise, thank you Crosscut.


    Posted Fri, Jul 18, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

    Then perhaps we need a new term for what "diversity" used to mean before it became a synonym for racial diversity? (You can tell that the latter is what it means to many now when you hear people calling other people "diverse" because they're not white, e.g., I am a diverse person because I'm half Asian.)

    Posted Fri, Jul 18, 11:12 a.m. Inappropriate

    It is refreshing to read an article about this "big hole" in the diversity community as told from someone on the liberal/progressive side. We on the conservative spectrum have always known this existed. I have attempted to participate in my community (the gay community and just my neighborhood community) the moment it is discovered that I am conservative, I have become a pariah. The tolerance of the liberal/progressive side melts right away into a viciousness that becomes insulting on a personal scale. Others I know who are conservative have experienced this as well. Read the blogs to articles here at Crosscut or any local publication and you will see the vitriol spewed out even when there are no conservative postings.

    However your article talks about the lack of thought diversity but gives no suggestions as to how to seek that out and to be welcoming of it.

    Posted Mon, Jul 21, 6:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    Amen. It's as if we don't have a right to different opinions.


    Posted Fri, Jul 18, 2:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    People who look different and sound the same are not "diverse".

    Faculty hiring and retention (tenure) should be intentional and conscious of the need for non-cosmetic diversity, including philosophic standards. The huge lopsided prevalence of left-wing preferences in college faculties cries out for conscious remedies. Advocates should be shameless in appropriating the rhetoric which justifies cosmetic diversity strategies.


    Posted Fri, Jul 18, 10:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    A fine example of a broader inspection:



    Posted Fri, Jul 18, 10:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    Posted Sat, Jul 19, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

    How to get outside of the trap of our "bi-polar" political system so real collaborative communities can coalesce around shared interests (environmentalists and ranchers, for instance)?

    Posted Sat, Jul 19, 9:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Posted Sat, Jul 19, 3:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    "...by defining diversity too broadly, it makes the discussion meaningless and waters down the goal of expanding social equity."

    So... Diversity is fine, as long as it's among people just like you?

    Or am I missing something here?


    Posted Tue, Jul 22, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    I wonder whether Rev. Robinson is willing - in the interest of greater diversity in " thought, philosophy, politics and economics" - to invite non-believers to voice their views to his congregation.


    Posted Tue, Jul 22, 2:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    As an Atheist, I can say that we are altogether too annoying to be tolerated! Just a touch too much diversity.


    Posted Tue, Jul 22, 2:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    How about Global Warming Deniers? Do we have to tolerate them? The BBC now does not.



    Posted Tue, Jul 22, 3:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    Are skeptics included in "deniers"?


    Posted Tue, Jul 22, 4:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    The BBC now thinks so.


    Posted Tue, Jul 22, 9:01 p.m. Inappropriate

    An example of why we got the hell out of there.


    Posted Wed, Jul 23, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

    No chance leftist urban types will accept diversity of thought: it would cause a failure of the system. Actually, strict political conformity allows for a certain practical flexibility. Equating evil not with outcomes but rather with thoughts allows people to do all manner of things so long as it was done with pure intent (or claimed pure intent). Thus LA, Seattle and San Francisco can create the most economically inegalitarian societies on the West Coast and yet preach on endlessly about social justice. As long as this is all done in the name of equality, diversity, tolerance, etc., then it is all OK, even if real people suffer real harm, and even if the outcome is inequality, conformity and exclusion.

    The burden of doing good rather than merely speaking and thinking correctly would be too much for Seattle to bear. It's much easier, after all, to simply say the right things.


    Posted Thu, Jul 24, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    Hear, hear.


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