The Enemies of Diversity
It’s likely that every single person at CMC would claim to be pro-diversity, yet it is remarkably difficult to find someone who means it. In fact, our greatest self-proclaimed advocates for diversity seem opposed to actual diversity in any form.
At a basic level all diversity of human beings – be it on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, or something else entirely – is heterogeneity of thought. It’s generally accepted that race and ethnicity are social constructs. If we accept this premise, then racial and ethnic diversity boils down to a different experience of life as determined by the mechanisms of cultures and subcultures. The same is true for any trait tied to social status: gender, sexuality, social awkwardness, hair-color, foot-size, etc. That diversity of perspective manifests itself in a diversity of thought. Someone who has been evicted in the name of eminent domain will consider highway construction differently than a trucker who will think differently than a government official and so on and so forth. So it is logically necessary to advocate for diversity of thought if one is to advocate for diversity of race, gender, sexuality, etc. If you are an advocate for diversity of thought, then you must advocate for the idea of different thoughts slamming together.
Instead, our campuses’ advocates of “diversity” want the opposite. These last several weeks the 5Cs have been hit by a series of calls for less diversity of thought in the name of diversity itself. My campus, CMC, in particular fell under fire for being “unsafe” for students of color, queer students, and other “underprivileged” groups. I would argue that the “danger” the protestors cited is an inevitable consequence of multiculturalism. This is in no way meant to deny that the incidents cited were not painful, but simply that they a necessary byproduct of diversity. In fact, the solutions they proposed would amount to creating segregated spaces and programs of indoctrination, effectively reducing, if not eradicating, diversity.
Most students would, at this point, object to my argument. They are likely to say that “diversity” initiatives are not in fact about diversity, but rather a sort of cultural victory. The reasoning would follow like this: certain groups have been marginalized and oppressed in the past (and present) and the way to make amends is to ensure members of those groups end up (in this case) in higher education. To put it bluntly: it does not matter if they mix and interact, just that everyone gets a degree. This is a strange argument in many ways. Oddest of all, it rests on the assumption that if one member of a social group receives something that somehow benefits the whole group. Underneath that lies the premise that these social constructs like race have manifested themselves in a collective well-being.
This argument vastly oversimplifies social structure. Individuals are affected by unique intersections of different cultural forces. Being a black man from Detroit is different from being a black man in San Francisco. While it is conceivable that a black man in Detroit might benefit through a black man from San Francisco attending CMC, it is just as reasonable that he could benefit from a white man attending CMC. The black San Franciscan could serve as a role model to the black Michigander, but if the white man was from Detroit (i.e. if they had a shared cultural identity), he could be a role model too. When we look at the black Michigander’s quality of life more broadly, the claim seems even more suspect. If the white Michigander returned to Detroit, wealthier than when he left, he could very well pour much needed wealth into the economy by employing the black Michigander. To say that this would do him less good than seeing a random black man from San Francisco become successful seems unreasonable to my mind. At the very least, it complicates matters significantly. So I would argue that the variables affecting cultural status are too complex for us to conclude that surface level diversity is valuable in and of itself.
Moreover, nowhere in their demands did the protestors actually call for a more diverse student body. They would have some grounds to do so. Like most institutions of higher education, CMC is distinctly lacking in lower income students. Tuition is very high and the cost of educating students is even higher. That makes it difficult to draw in a diverse student body. Minorities are disproportionally affected by income inequality. Instead of citing this and arguing that CMC should make an effort to increase financial aid packages, the protestors called for increased operational costs. Now, you could make the argument that the spending would make CMC more attractive to the underprivileged. The problem is that not receiving enough financial aid makes it nearly impossible for an underprivileged student attend CMC. That’s just it for them. Feeling uncomfortable at CMC is a softer barrier to entry. Even if it should be addressed, it would not be possible to do so from an institutional level without destroying diversity altogether.
Whether in a sectioned-off resource center or across the whole of campus, it is impossible to construct a “safe space” unless you eradicate all meaningful diversity. People – even of the same race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. – are unique and have their own unique experiences that shape their worldview. Because they are limited in this capacity, people are often insensitive towards one another. This is unfortunate and when individual instances surface, they should be addressed. However, it is an inevitable byproduct of diversity. This is why loving, thriving married couples generally argue fairly often. If you are to partner with another person, to understand and care for them, you have to candidly discuss how you both feel and what you both think. Couples in healthy marriages know how to do so kindly and maturely, but they still do it. Still, neither member is “safe.” The only way to keep an individual “safe” in this manner is to essentially annihilate the root of the insensitivity: diversity. Driving out or silencing those with different cultural experiences is a good place to start, but if you want real homogeny, you have to go deeper and strangle any diversity of thought.
Be it mandatory sensitivity trainings or general education requirements, indoctrination accomplishes this goal in the short term. Now, the proposed programs are nowhere near as Orwellian as Scripps students’ demand for required anti-oppression training to brainwash its student body, but protestors want CMC to become more like Scripps in this regard. They want to institutionalize this social pressure; they want the power to bully students and faculty into agreeing. As someone who attended Scripps College, I can report that this indoctrination does often succeed in ending discussions before they begin and creating a mindless space in which students are generally too afraid to question the views their institution has handed them. The general education requirements make your GPA dependent on submission to their world view. This was my experience in CORE I, where my teacher would cut off questions or comments that were contrary to a particular brand of progressive thought and would grade down assignments that did not match her ideology. You simply agreed for the sake of the assignment, but the class built in the habit of silence and capitulation.
Fortunately, for those like myself who actually desire diversity, CMC has a long stood out as an institution dedicated to individualism. Approximately 30% of CMC students are conservatives. In the range of American campuses, this makes CMC one of the most conservative colleges, which gives you a sense of just how little diversity of thought exists in higher education. Moreover, CMC is actively working to bring in a more diverse student body. Announced last year by President Hiram Chodosh, the Student Imperative is an unprecedented program that adds $100 million to the endowment in order to “create more need-based and merit-based awards in support of our Admission Officers as they push into new neighborhoods, locales, and schools – suburban, urban, rural – in search of those young brilliant minds who just need a chance.”
CMC has nearly reached its goal and, given its rapid success, is preparing to reach $200 million. Such a move would bring in real, meaningful diversity to the campus, rather than a pseudo-diversity agenda pushed onto the CMC administration by the recent protests.
Image Source: Flickr