Diversity fails to deliver value in education

by Maxford Nelsen

Whitworth’s conception of diversity has troubled me for some time. Although its value is so generally accepted it appears self-evident, I have had a persistent sense there is something wrong with it. I now believe I have found it: Diversity, as often understood, is racist.

First, as a general point, diversity in itself is not valuable. Just as having gasoline for your car is valuable only because it gets you from place to place, diversity is only valuable to the extent that it promotes more understanding and better educated people. Unfortunately, it fails to do both.

Diversity dictates that many races and ethnicities be represented in order to provide a learning environment that includes different perspectives. In practice, however, “the overriding message of ‘diversity,’ transmitted by the policies of a school’s administration and by the teachings of a school’s professors, is that the individual is defined by his race,” writes Peter Schwartz of the Ayn Rand Institute. In other words, it is assumed that there is a “black experience,” a “white experience,” a “Hispanic experience” and so forth.

Diversity goes hand in hand with multiculturalism, or the belief that truth is determined on a per-culture basis. The opposite of ethnocentrism, multiculturalism states that it is wrong for one culture to judge another.

Thus, each race has its own characteristics, experiences and manner of thinking. By being exposed to the “experiences” of all races and ethnicities and treating them all as equally true and valid, it is thought that racism will disappear.

But instead of tearing down racial boundaries, this understanding of diversity reinforces them by defining people by their race. Michael S. Berliner, Ph.D., and Gary Hull, Ph.D., define racism fundamentally as “the notion that one’s race determines one’s identity.” By categorizing individuals by race, that is precisely what diversity does at its core.

Berliner and Hull write that “one cannot teach students that their identity is determined by skin color and expect them to become colorblind,” while Schwartz points out that “there is no way to bring about racial integration except by completely disregarding color.” If real racism is ever to disappear, people need to cease being defined by race.

I acknowledge that, although diversity is structurally racist, it does not necessarily follow that it results in interracial conflict. However, given that diversity divides people by race, the only way to avoid causing such conflict is by convincing everyone that every race’s experience and culture is equally true, valid and moral.

But where is the academic value in this? Most reasonable people, if pressed, will agree that there is absolute Truth. Given that there is, it is entirely unreasonable to compartmentalize truth by race and culture, pretending as though multiple, contradictory truths can all exist at once. Thus, diversity divides people by race, and multiculturalism prevents the races from interacting critically with each other. That is of no academic value.

Ideas about racial identity have real-world implications. For instance, in the area of international adoptions, “the United Nations and UNICEF, the U.N.’s program to help children, tend to be biased toward placing race and ethnicity at a higher priority than a family,” according to Jedd Medefind, president of Christian Alliance for Orphans. In other words, it’s better for a child to remain an orphan in their original culture than it is for them be adopted by a family from another culture.
As that view has been adopted by our own State Department, the number of international orphans adopted by Americans has plummeted from 22,991 in 2004 to 9,319 in 2011, according to Napp Nazworth of the Christian Post.

If that is not proof enough, look to Europe where multiculturalism is played out in the form of street riots and protests. In the last two years, government leaders of the U.K., France, Germany and Spain have all publicly decried multiculturalism. Europe’s experience with immigration proves that multiple, conflicting cultures simply cannot function in the same space without critical engagement and a common pursuit of truth.

Given that “‘ethnic diversity’ is merely racism in a politically correct disguise,” according to Berliner and Hull, we need to realize that people are people. There is no universal experience for all members of a given race. There are only individuals and individual experiences. I’m not saying race cannot play any role in a person’s life experience, simply that it does not define them.

We must also abandon multiculturalism, but not for individual subjectivism. Just as individual cultures can be wrong, individual people can also be wrong. Instead, we must seek truth through rational discussion among individuals, regardless of race. If we desire a truly challenging and productive academic environment, we cannot simply learn about and appreciate other races, cultures and perspectives, but we must be able to criticize them and at the same time deal with criticism of our own. Anything less is either racist or irrational.

Nelsen is a senior majoring in political science. Comments can be sent to mnelsen13@my.whitworth.edu.

12 Replies to “Diversity fails to deliver value in education”

  1. I respectfully and completely disagree with this article. There is a lot to be learned from diverse populations, especially when living together in close quarters as we are given the opportunity (albeit not as great as other schools) here at Whitworth. The fact that you state that you have failed to learn much from other cultures just shows me that you have still not learned to embrace other cultures/viewpoints and their perspectives. My life has been changed by the people I have met here; mainly those that are either from other parts of the world and have had different experiences or from those that are very highly conscious of the importance of diversity. So, while you are welcome to have your own opinion I believe you are highly misinformed.

    1. Josh,Thanks for the comment, but I think you missed the point of the article.

      Nowhere in the article did I say that it is a bad thing to have a mixture of races/ethnicities on campus. All I was saying is that, often, diversity programs/admissions/and even the way it is talked about on campus, are racist because they define people by their race. In other words, they assume that people will have certain characteristics/views/experiences simply because of their race. I would argue that there is simply too much diversity within races to do this. People as individuals are what truly matter.

      I have friends of various ethnicities/cultures. But I appreciate them as individuals, not because they are from a given country or race.

      Second, I argue that it is more academically beneficial to be able to actually criticize other cultures. It allows for honest discussion, a better dialogue, and better pursuit of truth. Trying to accept all cultures as equally correct/moral/etc. does not further anything academically.

      All I’m saying is that we should interact with people as individuals, not as representatives of a given race, and that we should be able to engage in rational debate in pursuit of truth.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ryan.
      The only objection I can take from your comment is that you don’t like Ayn Rand or the objectivist worldview, which is fine.

      However, this article was not in any way an endorsement of the objectivist worldview. I merely recognized that even people I disagree with can sometimes make valid points, as I believe they did in this case, and decided to include the quotations from those authors in my article.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts more specifically as to why this is messed up logic.

  2. Josh, you completely, albeit respectfully, missed the point of the article. He’s not saying that people from different cultures can’t or don’t learn from each other at all, in fact I have no idea how you could have come to such a conclusion by any means other than the process of seeing the sacred word “diversity” being spoken against and immediately shutting down. He’s talking about “diversity” as it’s being pushed by Whitworth. He makes it very clear that diversity itself is a good thing. What He’s writing against is the way in which Whitworth goes about promoting it, which he claims (I think rightly) damages the value it could have. Whitworth students need to stop hiding away their ideas out of fear that someone’s feelings might get hurt, or their “racial identity” (possibly an inherently racist term itself) might be challenged. Instead, and I’m pretty sure Max would back me up on this, students need to be willing to be honest with each other and to actually discuss areas where they disagree. This is working together in the common pursuit of truth rather than just being nice and pretending to agree with everybody. I think if you were able to get past the defamation of the holy word in this article, you would realize that the author agrees with you. What he’s saying is that the ideas about “diversity” that are pushed by Whitworth make it more difficult for students to have experiences such as yours.

  3. Racism is not “the notion that one’s race determines one’s identity”. It’s the belief that inherent human traits in racial groups justify discrimination. If Berliner and Hull had used the real definition of racism instead of the one they made up for the sake of justifying their argument, they really couldn’t argue that considering a variety of cultural experiences is “racist”.
    P.S. To ignore issues of diverse perspectives and experiences for the sake of upholding an arbitrary set of epistemological ideals is pretty disrespectful of your alleged friends of different races and cultures. If there is one universal Truth (which many rational people have disputed) it does no good to assume that a certain culture definitely has it wrong (nor does it help to assume that a certain individual definitely has it correct). THAT is what causes discrimination and racism.

    Thank god my experience as a multiracial student at Whitworth was not shaped by this narrow-mindedness.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Emily.
      First, I admit that defining racism as “the notion that one’s race determines one’s identity” is not what first comes to mind. But it makes sense when you think about it.

      You argue that racism is “the belief that inherent human traits in racial groups justify discrimination.” But in order to believe that “inherent human traits in racial groups justify discrimination,” you must first believe that that there are traits inherent in racial groups. However, I would argue that there really are not inherent traits in racial groups beyond perhaps similar physical characteristics. Since there is so much diversity, if you will, WITHIN races, it is racist to assume that all members of a race have certain characteristics. That’s the root of the issue.

      Second, I’m not ignoring issues of diverse perspectives and experiences. I am a strong believer in John Stuart Mill’s free marketplace of ideas, which basically states that truth is best discerned in an environment in which ideas may freely compete. What I object to is the oft unspoken assumption that people of a given race have all share similar views/perspectives. This relegates individuals to representatives of their race, instead of independent, rational, and autonomous human beings.

      I fail to see how viewing my “diverse” friends as rational autonomous individuals instead of representatives of their race is disrespectful.

      Lastly, there is no inherent link between rational discussion in the pursuit of truth and racial discrimination. I explicitly stated that I am not advocating ethnocentrism. Nor am I advocating relativism. I don’t have to fit neatly into one of those two camps. All I am arguing is that we should be able to freely criticize all ideas (not necessarily people) in the pursuit of truth, even if it means “offending” cultural views or practices. Not everybody can be right. This is especially important in higher education.

      1. I get it. Rational autonomous individuals should be treated as such and not seen as representatives of a race. To do so, in your opinion, is to unfairly assign them with characteristics that they may or may not have. I absolutely agree. You can often find more physical, experiential, etc. diversity among any certain race group than you can find between any two race groups.
        But as long as race continues to be a social construct, whether or not it is valid, and as long as racism results from this, it’s incredibly important that we pay attention to race. And that means individual people must speak for their experience as a member of a minority group and be respected as such in order to create changes in policy that improve a group’s welfare.

        It’s easy for someone in an academic setting to declare that all ideas are free to compete with one another, and debate rationally, and discern truth from subsequent conclusions. Unfortunately, this does not reflect the world outside of ideal theoretical circumstances. Whether we like it or not, discrimination exists based on skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of personal identity that people cannot simply separate from their human experience.

        This is not to say that I’m validating the promotion of stereotypes – generalized attributes about a demographic – which often gets confused with racism. Diversity studies should dispel stereotypes and acknowledge the unique experiences of individuals while also acknowledging that individuals from minority groups, due to social constructs and prejudices, have historically been ignored and still do not receive as much attention as majority opinions. This can sometimes lead to stereotyping, which should be avoided. But it is not racism.

        Thanks for your reply. It was helpful to hear your views explained in more detail and I appreciate the level of thought and attention you’ve brought to this issue.

  4. I don’t think any one believes that every single person of the same ethnic “race” have the same cultural experience, and to assume that that is the basis behind Whitworth’s diversity policies seems quite false to me. As an alumnus of Whitworth, I certainly don’t believe that, nor would many other folks on campus, “multicultural” or not. I have developed friendships and relationships with many dedicated staff and students who have engaged in diversity efforts, having worked with Act Six, in the intercultural student affairs office, Admissions office, and on student government as campus activities coordinator in my years at Whitworth. Never have I encountered someone who believed that every single person of the same ethnic “race” have the same cultural experience.
    The flaw I find in this article is that the writer believes Whitworth even accepts this paradigm at all. Nowhere in this opinion piece did the writer state a specific diversity policy of Whitworth’s — which makes it very hard for me to take this opinion piece seriously. Max states that by “being exposed to the “experiences” of all races and ethnicities and treating them as equally true and valid, it is thought that racism will disappear.” To claim Whitworth prescribes to this paradigm is absolutely inaccurate and paints Whitworth as a naive entity prescribing to an entirely oversimplified diversity campaign. I urge you to provide specific examples of how Whitworth as an institution carries out its diversity policy before you go painting the school as “racist”, ignorant and un-innovative in its diversity efforts.

    Lastly, I have to respectfully disagree with the author’s colorblind ideology. To employ such ideology is problematic in that it conveniently foregoes the need to address white privilege and the social systems that maintain racial inequality.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Vi. While it is admirable that you do not believe that people are defined by race, I wish I could say the same for all of the people I have spoken with about this topic.
      Also, the point of the article was not necessarily to attack Whitworth, but to make a broad point. You are correct; I did not mention any specific Whitworth policies. However, in my experience, this mindset is present at Whitworth. As I have spoken with various students, faculty and administration is response to this article, I am becoming increasingly convinced that this is an issue for Whitworth.

      Even if people do not consciously agree with the idea that people are determined by race, this belief can be subtly played out in conversations on the topic or policies that are implemented. Of course no one will come out and say it, but that does not mean it is not present in an underlying way.

      For instance, I believe it may be betrayed in your last paragraph. You say that to have a colorblind view “is problematic in that it conveniently foregoes the need to address white privilege and the social systems that maintain racial inequality.”

      First, either we have a colorblind perspective or we don’t. If we do, we view people simply as individuals. We do not categorize, define, or classify them by race. This is not racist.

      If we do not have a colorblind perspective, it means that we believe that race is important in determining who a person is. At the very least we recognize that it plays some role. Now, if race played a different role in every person’s life, there would be no point in even recognizing it. People would simply be individuals with independent thoughts, views, and experiences.

      There is only a point to being race-conscious if there are universal characteristics shared by all members of a given race. Otherwise, race would lose it meaning as anything more than a potential descriptor of appearance.

      For instance, you invoke white privilege. However, this concept has a hard time dealing with the lower middle class white male from an L.A. high school that is one of two white individuals on the football team and can’t get a job because he doesn’t speak Spanish (I’ve actually spoken with such an individual. He hardly seems to fit the mold of “white privilege,” yet the label is slapped on him simply because of his race. He is being incorrectly defined by his race. This works for the members of any race.

      Simply put, people, even within races, are too diverse to be treated as representatives of their race.

      1. “Simply put, people, even within races, are too diverse to be treated as representatives of their race.”
        Isn’t this what you, Max, along with your critics, can agree upon?

        Whitworth seeks to provide education to its students about this very fact. My freshman year was the first time I was labeled by my peers as Asian. Literally, people did not call me by my name but rather by ‘Asian.’ I am half-Filipino and half-white, I grew up in a metropolitan area where I considered myself white or at least not-Asian culturally. However, because of how I looked, Whitworth students categorized me as Asian.

        This, among other reasons, is why I decided to become a Cultural Diversity Advocate – to encourage the notion that cultures do not always coincide with physical appearances, as well as to provide opportunities for students to learn from cultures different than the one(s) they already know.

        I find it unfortunate that your 4 years at Whitworth has left you with an incorrect idea of what ‘diversity’ means, but that only means that Whitworth as an institution should encourage education on the subject even more.

        My last point is this (although I would love to discuss every point you and your critics have brought up): contrary to your last post, being race-conscious (although I would rather say “prioritizing race studies and the effects of racism on society”) is essential, because racism, while socially constructed with no actual inherent human traits related to skin colors, is *real in its consequences.* Because of socially-imputed racial identities, people have been lynched, enslaved, had restricted access to freedoms such as marriage, citizenship, owning homes, mortgages, job opportunities, suffrage, education, and so much more. So, while being “colorblind” is ideal, we cannot refuse to provide education on the gravity of this situation to Whitworth students when racism is still prevalent in America and yes, the world. If society is unaware of the falsehood of race or of the grave consequences of racism, how can we expect the future Americans to do anything different than our predecessors?

  5. 12 months late, 4 counter-points (2 on content, 2 on methods)
    1 – The founding premise that distinct ethnic experiences don’t exist is false. Socialization is influenced by tons of factors, be it gender, (parental) religion, mental ability, or ethnic ancestry. Whether this should be the case or not is an argument that was bypassed for simply stating that it isn’t.

    Of course there can be huge differences of experience within ethnic demographics, but that doesn’t mean there are NO common experiences, or no differences between them. Two twenty-something males, one leaving Sydney with Aboriginal ancestry and one leaving Sarajevo with Bosnian ancestry, will travel the world with very different and forming pasts. The same is true for two women from downtown Spokane, one with Hispanic and one with African-American heritage. The degree varies, but the principle holds.

    Recognizing these backgrounds (while knowing and living together with people on an individual basis, of course) is academically valuable. It encourages inquiry into how concepts of morality, self, community etc. develop, while considering ALL factors at work. Recognizing ethnic diversity in no way dictates ethnicity to be the only universally molding factor of identity.

    I suppose my disagreement is a matter of degree as well. On a spectrum from individual to universal experience, I give ethnic background more influence on a person’s development than the article does. My real beef, then, is with

    2 – Definitions. (“Whitworth’s conception of”) Diversity, for one. Not being a student at Whitworth, I also would have liked to see context on specific policies/actions the university has taken regarding diversity. Mostly though, racism.

    It’s tough, with language ever changing, but I’ll also argue that “the notion that one’s race determines one’s identity” more accurately fits the term “prejudice” or “stereotype”. Those can be filled with negative, positive, or value-neutral content (i.e. “Peruvians are short”), but I agree with Emily that “racism” requires degrading opinions about an ethnicity more than the conviction that ethnic groups undergo identical experiences. Throwing in the Berliner/Hull definition halfway through the article, and not pointing out until a comment reply that it differs from general usage, is cheaply inflammatory.

    3 – Absolute Truth. I happen to agree that some objective truth exists. But the argument that lots of ‘reasonable’ people will agree to something under pressure wouldn’t have convinced me of its logical necessity.

    4 – I didn’t appreciate the self-contradicting (implied) opinion that ethnic groups in Europe have had universally identical experiences with multiculturalism.

    ~ jakob.seelig@yahoo.com

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