If the article stopped there, the comments section would still be ablaze. While most would focus on the bizarre nature of my minimalist post-modern commentary, the rest of the debate would focus on the definition of the term, the “racists” on campus who oppose it and the response to being called racist until someone cites Hitler and our comments hit a new low.
And this has been the case for as long as I can remember. House fellows pump tension into every sentence as they use it to fill in blank that otherwise might not be politically correct. Administrators cause discomfort with some white students who take it as an affront or punishment. A large portion of the campus takes it as a sign the conversation they’ve entered is about to take a turn toward the vague and abstract. Others just see it as a code word for “social justice.”
Let’s agree on one thing: Diversity, as a term, has outlived its usefulness.
For instance: What does the Associated Students of Madison’s Diversity Committee do? According to the blurb on its website, its mission is: “to connect all UW students, faculty, admissions, administration, organizations, and progxrams with a common goal of experiencing a diverse college campus.”
It’s like saying, “We want to make sure everyone at this university realizes that everyone else exists.” And since the last few months of committee activities either means chatting with Damon Williams or student groups about plans, I’d say they’re doing a bang up job.
Even in the shadow of Plan 2008, the term “Diversity Committee” is a misnomer. Plan 2008 was targeted toward increasing the success of ethnic and racial minorities on this campus. Most things Diversity Committee dealt with involved minorities on campus. While calling it “minority committee” is not only insulting, but also inaccurate, why not social justice committee? Sure, it has baggage, too, but at least the name indicates a direction. “Diversity Committee” indicates nothing more than getting lots of different people at a table.
The concept of “Diversity” has also poisoned the discussion at this university, both in Madison and at the statewide level. “Inclusive Excellence” tries to remodel diversity under the expanded definition of diversity that includes gender identity, socio-economic background and disability. In its definition of success, there are references to greater multicultural competency and “compositional diversity.”
By the way, compositional diversity means “the numerical and proportional representation of various racial and ethnic groups on campus.”
It’s a shame we couldn’t just say that. Even worse that we’ve essentially done the same thing regarding race-based or minority issues on this campus over the course of twenty years.
The most recent columns to alarm the campus are perfect examples why we’ve gone in that direction. Andrew Carpenter of the Daily Cardinal got torn apart for his tired but common view that race-based admissions are unfair to qualified white students. What was disappointing wasn’t the accusations of racism or elaborate explanations of white privilege, it was that there was actual debate as to whether Carpenter’s views should be printed.
The same sort of debate occurred over the articles written by Jamie Chapman and Jim Allard. I’m not saying the three are scholars on the subject, or even that I agree with them. But the student papers print them because they represent a viewpoint that is shared on this campus by a portion of the community and because their arguments are reasonable. Sure, Jim’s came from an objectivist standpoint that I find alien and destructive, but it’s not without its logic.
And neither are the arguments from those fighting for social justice.
It’s just that we’ve made this adversarial rather than discursive. I assure you that some minority students on campus look at people like Carpenter or Allard and say, “You are trying to crush my way of life.” And those writers may think the exact same thing when confronted with a condemning response.
Campus climate surrounding issues of race and ethnicity are abysmal and administrators know it. Hence the imposed blanket of diversity — a cozy, warm, inviting term to calm debate and ease the minds of every student. It’s like a sociological “serenity now.”
Well, I’m sick of it. And I hope all of you are, too.
So, instead of letting our discussion drown in a sea of buzzwords that obscure any concrete meaning, let’s address these issues we mean when we say “diversity.”
Does affirmative action work? What should UW be doing or not doing? Would we be more enriched if we all recognized white privilege? Are racial quotas worthwhile or worthless? Should we include other underrepresented groups in this discussion (? la inclusive excellence) or should we directly target the issue of race?
Essentially, let’s unpack diversity and throw away the wrapping paper.
No matter who you are, how you feel or what issue under the umbrella of diversity you want to address, send in a letter or guest column to [email protected] I will publish these over the course of the rest of the semester. The last full week of classes, we’ll dedicate the week to those issues that come up the most. Our staff writers will tackle them, members of the campus community will opine on them, administrators can chime in. This is a public forum and it’s about damn time we showed it.
Just one catch: You cannot use the actual word diversity. It has been our crutch for the last few decades. The least we can do as a campus community is learn to walk without it.
Jason Smathers ([email protected]) is a first-year graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.