Increased diversity present in arts and humanities medalists

Aspen Brooks, For the Review

Out of the 18 individuals that received either the 2014 National Medal of Arts or National Humanities Medal, just under half are non-white, and over half are female.

President Barack Obama presented the medals on Thursday, Sept. 10, at the White House to an incredibly talented and diverse group of recipients.

The medals are awarded to honor individuals and institutions that have made outstanding contributions to the fields of art and humanities.

Nominations are made by the National Endowments for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts and finalists are then hand picked by the president.

Some may argue that the level of diversity ought to be further increased, as hearing from more people from different backgrounds is clearly a desirable goal.

Arts and humanities can benefit greatly from different perspectives, and the more the better.

However, it should still be recognized how big of a step our country has made in terms of racial representation.

According the United States Census Bureau, approximately 77.7 percent of the United States population is white.

By comparison, only about 66 percent of the medal recipients are white. This is not to say that more of the recipients selected ought to have been white, but rather that President Obama did an excellent job in increasing recognition of people of different races and backgrounds in the arts and humanities.

Looking back to the 2005 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal recipients, President George W. Bush only selected four non-white individuals and six women as part of the 20 individual medal recipients.

This statistic serves to underline just how much progress the Obama administration has made in the representation of individuals of different races.

Looking closer at some of the individuals that received one of the medals this year further emphasizes just how much diversity there is within this group of medal recipients.

Jhumpa Lahiri received a humanities medal for her contributions to literature, particularly for her novels that delve into the experience of growing up as an Indian-American immigrant.

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, she grew up speaking Bengali at home, and emigrated from London when she was only two years old.

Lahiri now writes primarily in Italian, having fallen in love with the language on a visit to Italy.

Fedwa Malti-Douglas also received a humanities medal for her scholarship.

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, she grew up in Lebanon, immigrating to the United States when she was 12.

A great deal of her work focuses on Arabic, and examines complex relationships between concepts like feminism and Islam.

Other notable recipients include Sally Field, Stephen King, George Shirley and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham.