In the heart of the most feared city in Orange County lies our community college. In Santa Ana, where 17th Street meets Bristol, Asians meet whites, Latinos meet blacks, Muslims meet Hindus, Christians meet Buddhists, gays meet straights, old meet young--some 30,000 people come together to learn.
A more diverse body of people would be hard to find. This extraordinary diversity is a sure prescription for conflict, or worse--spasms of violence such as those that grip the surrounding city nearly every Saturday night. Recently, for example, an interracial conflict on our campus resulted in one student pulling a gun on another who had told an ethnic joke. So, educational intersections can be places where people meet, or where they collide.
With a student population that is 59% minority, mostly Latinos and Asians, and with 29% non-U.S. citizens, our college runs the risk of fragmenting into segregated enclaves of ethnicity, disconnected from each other and the college as a whole. This would lead to a downward spiral of "us" against "them," which would eventually paralyze the educational process.
Everything depends on how we respond to our diversity. If diversity becomes an end in itself, rather than understood and valued as part of a larger whole, then beware! It will tear apart not only our college, but our nation, and the world. Sarajevo, Capetown, Belfast, Los Angeles: The places differ, the cultural contexts differ; yet the dynamics and destructive outcomes are the same. Rancho Santiago College is a microcosm of the big picture, and the big picture tells us that when diversity is carried too far, a point of no return seems ominously awaiting us.