You might have missed it in the rush of finals and holiday preparation, but Stony Brook put out an interesting holiday video a couple weeks ago.
On the surface, there’s not much to gawk at in this 58-second season’s greeting. A red box swagged out with a ribbon and an SBU logo gets passed between sets of disembodied hands. Some Hallmark Channel quality music plays in the background and an off-screen Alan Alda, namesake and benefactor of the school’s Center for Communicating Science, says weird stuff like “our differences are the gifts that bring us all together,” before University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and his wife, Ellen Li, end the video with well wishes.
Here’s the full transcript from the man who starred in 1995’s “Canadian Bacon”:
“There are many ways to celebrate the holidays. At Stony Brook University, our diversity has always been our strength. It’s a part of our tradition. It’s our courage, our joyfulness. Diversity brings us laughter and light. It pushes our dreams further. It makes our community stronger and more resilient. Our differences are the gifts that bring us all together.”
The whole thing is fun to mock, from its artful, hand-obsessed shooting angle to President Stanley painfully grinning while Wolfie gesticulates to his side. Still, apart from a general strangeness, there’s really not a lot to object to within the video itself.
But the video’s message is hollow, just one more example of Stony Brook pushing diversity as a marketing strategy. Like so much of the school’s PR-friendly output, this oddly-timed pat on the back seems less appropriate the deeper you dig.
In all fairness, Stony Brook has done a great job of bringing a planet’s worth of different backgrounds to its corner of Long Island. As of Fall 2018, the undergraduate student body is only 40.3 percent white — far more ethnically diverse than the 84.5 percent white county in which it is situated. Almost 4,500 of the school’s 26,254 students come from overseas. The university has more students from China than Brooklyn, thanks in no small part to a strenuous recruitment efforts full blown China Center created to boost enrollment from the country.
Those efforts might have something to do with the fact that international students pay way more per credit than their in-state counterparts, but I digress.
So if diversity is really “our strength,” like the video claims, then why do so many of Stony Brook’s efforts to encourage diversity stop after recruitment? If one of those Chinese students comes here and struggles with stress or mental health issues, they won’t find a counselor on campus that speaks Mandarin. If one of those students from Suffolk want to learn another language to broaden their cultural horizons, they’ll have to do so in a chimeric department being mashed together to help right a budget deficit.
We certainly don’t celebrate our diversity all that well either. Alan Alda is right when he says “there are many ways to celebrate the holidays.” There are also many holidays, and students aren’t given the day off to honor any religious or cultural events that aren’t celebrated by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Alan Alda is right here. Diversity is absolutely the cornerstone of our campus community, and we’re all stronger for having interacted with people outside of our ethnic, social and economic bubbles. But if Stony Brook really wants its commitment to diversity to hold weight beyond its hashtag value, then the university needs to do better than just call itself inclusive and act like it’s created a flawless environment.