Thursday, September 29, 2005

More on the Marquette Diversity Hustle

From an e-mail:

I can’t help but add my two cents to the “Some Heretical Thoughts on ‘Diversity’” post. Reading that email threw a little gas on an old fire, and I figure that these topics deserve as many different opinions as is necessary, especially from students themselves.

The email brought me back to my own first experience with Marquette’s diversity obsession gone loony. Last winter, we on the MUSG Senate were treated to a presentation by a big shot in the admissions office about the growing popularity of Marquette and consequent admissions crunch. What did we learn from the presentation? Basically, Marquette’s admissions process is a delicate calculus in maintaining the highest possible average ACT score while increasing the percentage of “students of color.”

What amazed me was that the admissions person made little attempt to conceal the process (or if not an official process, at least the adopted admissions goal). No, it was not “students of unique perspectives” or “students of other cultural upbringing.” Hell, even “students from a geographically interesting place” would probably make more rational sense. But the unabashed use of “person of color” hinted a spectacularly superficial notion of diversity.

I simply cannot understand the ultimate goal of universities in these policies. As far as I can see, a large “students of color” population is at best a second-hand consequence of attaining diversity in any academically significant sense – that being a diversity of perspective, knowledge, character, and so forth.

Ultimately, yes, this would lead to students of many cultures and locales, and consequently, of many different colors. But it would simply be a side effect, roughly two jumps removed from the primary goal. How does one make that leap from consequence to cause? Isn’t that one of those fallacies we’re taught in logic class? Or who knows; maybe I’m just vastly underrating the experience that comes with a well-rounded sampling of visual stimuli.

As far as the admissions is concerned, a dark-skinned student that deviates little from the typical Marquette student is more valuable to diversity goals than a light-skinned blue-eyed student from a small Scandinavian fishing town with no electricity and dirt roads.

What do our universities want – environments where individuals challenge and stimulate each other’s thought process through their unique perspectives? Or places where people can say, “My, look at all the different skin tones!” in admiration?

I remember leaving the presentation that night ashamed – literally ashamed – to go to a school where such superficiality and short-sidedness is so commonly adopted and exalted. I couldn’t decide whether I should laugh hysterically or weep at the lunacy of it all. My shame subsided a bit in remembering that the same situation plays out at almost every other university. Maybe very elite schools like some of the Ivys or the University of Chicago have a grip on this whole diversity thing, but I have no reason to believe that Marquette gets it at all.

Maybe we’re just doing our damndest to keep up with the current status quo, but if most schools are truly this wrapped up in silly facades, our school should rise above these cheap little games. At the very least, the administration’s policies shouldn’t make it look like a bunch of clowns in the eyes of its own students and faculty.

And interestingly, who among students have I personally found to be most repulsed and personally insulted? Students of color – no shock whatsoever.

The author of the anonymous email made the point about “heighten[ed] sensitivity to one’s outer self-image,” and as a student, I must say that that point couldn’t be more dead on. Having been here more than three years now, that feeling has become inescapable. To the person who is not “ethnically diverse,” the “ethnic minority” too often becomes a novelty to be admired for his or her ethnicity and for which the non-minority can feel newly enlightened or worldly. Much like a person who draws favorable notice by being physically attractive, the true character of the individual is often lost behind a surface characteristic. Conversely, meaningful interaction among ethnic minorities and non-minorities is often lost on those who find themselves turned off by force-fed ideas of diversity or intimidated by the exalted status of minorities in the college setting.

Simply put, ethnic diversity has been prevented from naturally working its way into the mainstream of our college environment and instead has been seized by a diversity-obsessed bunch, leaving so many non-minority students feeling opelessly “uncultured” and out of the loop. Like so much in academia, the entire issue has become little more than muddied, overwrought nonsense from intellectuals that can’t seem to see what’s right in front of their eyes.

Vincent Bergl

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