A Narrow Image of Diversity

Brandy Bones

The topic of this editorial is the Diversity Initiative, my general sentiments regarding the merit of its content and my concerns respecting its implementation. Wanting my argument to be as well-informed and substantiated as possible, I have hesitated on many occasions to write this editorial. Before taking issue publicly with the Diversity Initiative and the administration’s prior approach to diversity, I thought it better to wait and allow the administration the opportunity to articulate their own comprehensive definition of what diversity is and produce the evidence to support why Colgate should pursue it. I have read the Strategic Plan, the Report of the Task Force on Campus Culture, the Residential Education Vision and the two diversity documents that strangely appeared on every student’s blackboard account a week and a half ago. I attended the faculty panel discussion on the Free Colgate website – ironically and tellingly made up of a homogenous, or better yet, non-diverse panel of six liberal professors and zero conservative – and I attended the first Diversity Council meeting. The administration’s approach to diversity is intellectually vacuous, lacks a principled foundation and belittles the individual. According to the Strategic Plan, “Colgate defines a diverse community as one with a critical mass of people from traditionally underrepresented and disadvantaged groups where difference is viewed as an integral component of the institution, and where all groups and individuals fully benefit from the educational opportunities, in and out of the classroom, of a multicultural environment.” It continues, “While Colgate recognizes that many kinds of diversity (such as race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation) benefit the campus community, this strategy focuses most attention on populations that face the greatest contemporary exclusions in the United States.” Thus, the administration’s definition of diversity: a community with a critical mass of traditionally underrepresented people. And the administration’s operational definition of diversity: a community with a critical mass of the traditionally most underrepresented people from the U.S. The rationale the administration provides is that for students to be successful, Colgate must reflect the diversity of the “multi-ethnic, pluralistic world” around us. Apparently deemed unnecessary, further justification is absent. The administration’s Diversity Initiative has chosen to focus most of its resources on increasing the proportion of students of color as soon as possible. The Diversity Initiative limits itself to the belief that diversity is equivalent to multiculturalism and runs no deeper. No where in any of the administration’s documents did I find a reference to the most meaningful form of diversity: intellectual. Completely failing to make any mention of intellectual diversity, the administration’s approach implies that it is our racial and cultural background that separates us as students rather than our intellect and beliefs. Lacking the imagination to think beyond a multicultural worldview, the administration’s narrow, prejudiced (may I go so far as to call racist?) approach preaches that diversity is best measured quantitatively by counting up the number of people in a community that can be described as part of some traditionally underrepresented group. What hard data backs up their claim? What evidence proves that a percentage increase in the minority population would enhance the Colgate community? The Diversity Pre-Planning Workgroup Report and Recommendations includes a brief paragraph alluding to hard data collection. The Group “surveyed the current landscape of diversity at Colgate specifically, and in higher education generally. The group then engaged in a critical review of relevant data working from the assumption that a central component of a critical analysis and understanding of diversity is the acknowledgement of the sometimes contradictory implications of quantitative and qualitative data. As such, the group acknowledged that competing explanations arising from quantitative and qualitative data need not cancel out one or the other.” It is a puzzling paragraph that seems to conclude – well, in fact, it doesn’t conclude anything at all except that when it comes to hard data and diversity, you can’t conclude anything. The unproven assumption under girding the entire Diversity Initiative and driving the administration to make diversity “a hallmark of the Colgate experience” (in the words of the Task Force on Campus Culture) and “vital to the college” (in the words of Dean Roelofs and Dean Weinberg) is that increasing diversity will directly correlate to greater success for students. No proof or data supports, as far as I can tell, this happy scenario while it is very possible that such an aggressive push to increase the percentage of students of color could very well have detrimental affects on the Colgate community. The administration, according to the preliminary diversity report, has a lot of work and research to do before it can begin to speculate how an increase in minority diversity would affect the Colgate community. The administration even recognizes the extreme difficulty it faces given its geographical location and the minority students it consistently loses to Ivy Leagues schools. Taking all these factors into consideration, where does that leave the pool of increasingly competitive, talented and intellectually diverse students who are vying each year for a spot in the first year class? What about the equal opportunity each and every applicant deserves to be granted as an individual? Despite all of this, Colgate seems on course to keep moving ahead prematurely in almost every direction – creating offices, implementing programs, hiring staff, appointing an endowed Diversity chair, establishing special hiring practices for minorities in some cases, requiring diversity training and reconsidering the CORE curriculum – all before it knows what good it is trying to serve. If President Chopp is serious that, “Like any good process that becomes a way of life, our strategic plan has the flexibility to allow us to continue to listen, adapt, incorporate new ideas and model new ways to serve our students, even as we move ahead” then I hope she will seriously consider revising the Diversity Initiative approach with a focus inward on bettering the current campus climate. I came to Colgate to “seek truth” and learn from professors with more wisdom than myself. I am in pursuit of excellence, and I am enriched by diversity of thought. Somewhere along the way I must have missed it – when did multiculturalism become a measure of our intellectual aptitude?