I went into Michael Steele’s speech attempting to put aside my skepticism about the Republican National Committee’s chairman. The source of my skepticism derived from the fact that Steele is the chairman of a political party that is often vociferously resistant to progressive policy. For evidence of this, one need look no further than the recent Values Voters Summit where beauty queen Carrie Prejean spoke and was glorified for rejecting gay marriage. Putting aside their intentions with regards to policy, the Republican Party also lacks diversity in the composition of its leadership: there are very few elected African American Republicans.
Despite the Republican Party’s shortcomings in terms of diversity, the motivations for bringing Steele to campus for Diversity Week were in the spirit of what the week aimed to accomplish: an awareness of the need for diversity on campus. The RNC chairman had a pulpit from where he could share his insights on the topic at hand. Unfortunately, Mr. Steele squandered the opportunity given to him.
In his speech, Steele regurgitated tired and clichéd metaphors and avoided delving into issues of any substance. I appreciated hearing Steele’s story of his path to success and the obstacles he faced along the way; however, aside from this, his speech added very little to the discussion of racial, sexual and political diversity on our campus and within a larger, national context.
Steele also had the opportunity to discuss the role of diversity within the Republican Party, as he fielded a question asking him why the party’s leadership and followers were so homogenous. In responding, Steele could have owned up to the Republican’s failings and suggested ways that the party could evolve. Instead, his response was to pretend that this lack of diversity was something of a gross aberration. He could not understand why his party failed to attract minorities and did not concede that this failure was in part based on Republican Party platforms.
Steele’s speech could have been used to make a number of important and valid points on diversity; for example, he could have spoken to the necessity of diversity of thought and of respectfully listening to opinions that differ from one’s own. Certainly this message would have been powerful considering that the current political environment has been rife with disrespect (Representative Joe Wilson’s outburst during President Obama’s health care speech comes to mind as just one example).
Beyond the realm of politics, Steele had, in Colgate’s student body, an audience that was still smarting from and attempting to understand its encounter with prejudice in the form of the inflammatory, racist graffiti found last November on campus. This event brought a new awareness to many students on campus that our school is not immune to prejudice. In light of this, Steele had an audience that could have been further energized about promoting diversity on campus. Unfortunately, I think that because his speech fell so flat and was so full of equivocations, many students left the Chapel unaffected by Steele and his perspective on diversity.
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