Media and Diversity: What exposure can do

Recently for the Washburn Review, I was tasked with watched “Welcome to Waverly,” a new Bravo docuseries that follows the adventures of seven diverse urbanites in Waverly, a tiny town in Kansas with a demographic that hasn’t changed in centuries. However, I wasn’t able to access the show because I don’t have a TV service provider. This is not a review of the show, but I will use the show’s premise as a segue to my opinion about diversity and how media exposure of small town culture to the larger world and vice versa can bring about the kind of diversity societies and institutions should pine for. I will focus mainly on affirmative action and diversity fatigue.

From what reviews I have read online, it seems that Bravo has brought a refreshing, nuanced tone to their show that other reality shows don’t seem to have. They have cut down on the drama, the episode-spanning spats and the melodramatic reactions that would have usually come with shows about people living together. The reaction from the Waverly locals are muted and respectful. There are jabs here and there, but they are limited. The reviews laud the less divisive presentation of America. Here’s the thing, Waverly hasn’t directly felt the effects of systematic and internalized racism, sexism or other discriminatory practices that plague society.

While the show deserves praise for not sensationalizing events, it may fall victim to not diving deeply enough into the issues of diversity that big cities deal with directly, such as affirmative action, identity politics or brash inclusion initiatives.

Then again, big cities haven’t shown much progress in dealing with those issues. For example, taking affirmative action comes with a slew of problems. I understand the urge to instill programs in offices and colleges. However, I think it only serves as sort of a compensation, a short-term solution to a problem that has its roots in historical and social contexts. The idea of greater representation is nice, and no one disagrees that diversity is a good thing, but it can be ineffective when the root of the problem is not examined.

Representation without deeper understanding is just like a veil covering the darker underbelly of racism or sexism. In fact, poorly executed inclusion initiatives have shown to induce diversity fatigue in employees and managers. This occurs when people feel so much responsibility for instilling and maintaining diversity that they simply become tired of it. As employers and managers attempt to tackle diversity, they are always going to run into the root causes of the issue, which is too much for any one person to handle. 

One thing that the show does right to solve these problems is that it gives exposure to the lives of small-town people. Of course, it could do more to add to the character of the town, but this could be a first step toward opening citizens up to the idea of diversity.

Media still holds a lot of power today, and shows like this may change the way people view each other. After all, education is crucial in battling oppression. There are possible missteps, though, that should be considered. Often, even with the best of intentions, show makers may present a group in such a way as to give way to negative interpretations. This happens because of the inherent bias of lack of financial backing that might prevent the people working on the show from covering a topic from all angles. I just hope that “Welcome to Waverly” has done that.