Literary work raises questions of diversity

A book signing was held at the USF Bookstore yesterday for the newly released controversial novel, No Place to Hide in America. A self-described “American misadventures of a honky white boy, Puerto Rican, mulatto, Negro, cracker, Syrian, Uncle Tom bastard from Africa,” the topic of book challenges the Diversity Programs in all universities, including USF.Denys Blell, one of the co-authors present at the signing, was USF’s associate vice president of Diversity Initiatives between 1974-2000. He is the president of Beyond Diversity, an organization built to honor cultural differences and eliminate oppression. No Place to Hide in America is based on the experiences of Blell and co-author Bob Kreisher, combined into the character Samir Dyfan.One of the main topics discussed in the book is the idea of self-segregation.In the introduction of No Place to Hide in America Kreisher writes, “As salient as they are, nobody is inherently defined by their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion. … Utilization of these categories is always an excuse for not knowing an individual. Utilization of these categories is not knowledgeable; it is a substitution for knowledge wielded by minds not flexible enough to fit another and souls too callous to care.” This belief gave the authors inspiration for the title, because they believe that in the United States we hide behind these ethnic identities and stereotypes.Blell believes that higher education diversity programs are, sometimes unintentionally, involved in “segregation instead of integration” as a result of all the programs that target certain ethnic groups and might ostracize other students.Throughout the book, Blell and Kreisher contribute unique views on topics of diversity and self-segregation, because, like Samir Dyfan, he doesn’t relate to any particular racial or religious identity.

“No Place to Hide in America is an insider account of the politics of race, ethnicity, disability, gender and sexual orientation and how these politics have undermined and corrupted the integrity of the diversity movement in higher education, whose legitimacy is supposed to be grounded in moral, ethical and legal imperatives,” Blell said.

An example of corruption mentioned in his book is when a university official used diversity as an excuse to install a “collaborator” in a staff member’s place. The book never mentions real names and universities remain anonymous.

“(I am not against) any university. I don’t have axes to grind with the individuals. My concern is with the behaviors that are undermining diversity,” Blell said “These behaviors are inappropriate, illegal, unethical and in some cases immoral.”

Some students have shown interest in the book’s topic. Abdul Hussein, a sophomore in the psychology department, was drawn to the book because of the multiple racial slurs on the cover.

“I was interested when I saw the book advertised because I am of Syrian ancestry. When I found that the author was coming in today for a book signing, I decided to check it out,” he said.

Others, however, disagreed with the book’s stance.

“I don’t necessarily agree with (Blell), because anyone is welcome to go to any of the meetings, like Fellowship for Christian Athletes,” said sophomore Chris Walker. “They wouldn’t mind having an atheist. They aren’t going to beat you up for your beliefs. I don’t find a problem with it, and I don’t think that it causes segregation. If you are doing it for awareness, it’s defiantly good for everybody.”

The most frequent visitors to Blell’s table were members of USF’s staff and faculty. They showed support for the book, but usually refused quotes.

“I know that (this book focuses on) an important topic, because diversity is the key to this society,” said H. Roy Kaplan, associate professor in the African Studies Department “I teach Racism in American Society, and I know that this pluralistic society won’t be able to exist unless we learn how to live together. That’s why I say that this book and this whole topic is not just interesting, it’s vital.”