On Discussions and Diversity

“White people and men need to sit down and listen…. This isn’t about their feelings.” A panelist made this statement during the much-applauded discussion on race and gender held last Wednesday. I am not white, but I am male, so I hope I will be permitted to speak.

From what I have seen, the recent social justice movements on campus are critically lacking in anything resembling legitimate discussion. They have been characterized by the sharing of personal struggles followed by commiseration and solidarity. Discussion involves the interchange of competing viewpoints. What we have instead is the exclusion of dissenting voices from the “conversation.” Those who disagree with the majority opinion are shunned and dismissed for their “privilege” and ignorance.

Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.

Anecdotes of microaggressions and personal attacks quoted in these accounts are hardly indictments of the entire community. I do not mean to invalidate the candid accounts of the students contributing such reflections, but, in the realm of personal experience, one can and should really only speak for oneself.

It would be misguided for us to attribute our individual anxieties and experiences to prejudice within the entire community. Self-victimization may be an accurate analysis of the immediate causes of one’s problems. It is, by itself, rarely sufficient as a solution. Ultimately, the movements on campus seem to have prioritized the sharing of struggles at the expense of the discussion of solutions.

The aforementioned comment that “white people and men need to sit down and listen” followed a question about how to respond to claims of reverse racism. According to the questioner, reverse racism, which she defined as institutional discrimination against traditionally privileged racial groups, “doesn’t actually exist.”

An injunction to an entire race and gender of people to take a seat hardly seems indicative of a healthy discussion. When last I checked, we had a word to describe the rejection of ideas based on the race or gender of their proponents — I’ll let you take a guess.

To understand the attitudes around the question of reverse racism, it is necessary to address the idea of “diversity,” a central theme in recent movements. In the spirit of discussion, I will take the initiative here and tackle this question. Though the meaning of the term is shrouded by vagueness, it seems to me that as far as institutional policies are concerned, diversity is typically used to refer only to racial diversity. This school often expresses pride in its “intentionally diverse” community. The problems with intentional racial diversity are threefold: its theory, implementation and results.

The ideal of racial diversity is worth questioning. If there is a group of five people of the same race and a group of five people of different races, what exactly does it mean to say that the latter is a more ideal configuration? Proponents of intentional racial diversity often say that people of certain races bring ideas and ways of thinking to the table that others could not. Please, name one.

Is it not wrong in principle to assume of any person that they possess certain qualities or certain experiences solely on the basis of their race? Cultural diversity is important, but race is not culture and should not pass for it. The assumption that racial diversity implies a diversity of any other kind is itself prejudiced.

The implementation of intentional racial diversity inherently requires racial discrimination. Some racial groups, because of a variety of factors, statistically perform better than others academically. In terms of admissions, this discrepancy is overcome by weighting the factor of race in favor of certain groups and against others. That is, certain races are valued above others in candidates. This is unjust.

For many students, race becomes an impediment to their success when they are deemed less valuable because of a school’s quest for racial diversity. I suggest the College Counselling Office release its race-related scattergram data, or at the very least, the average GPA and SAT scores by racial group of students admitted to college. I suspect that the severity of this weighting would be made crystal clear, and the outrage would be palpable.

Intentional racial diversity generates anxieties and tensions in the student body. One of the panelists reported concerns about the perception that some students would get accepted to college more easily because of their race. This anxiety is aggravated by the school’s incessant hawking of diversity and its related figures, which has spawned the slogan “More Than Just a Number.” Let me make this clear: the only solution to students’ worries about race being a factor in their admission to Andover and college is to stop using race as a factor in admissions.

The policy of intentional racial diversity faces similar problems in faculty hiring and student leadership. Some have argued that such a policy is necessary in both to create “role models” for students of less well-represented groups. The assumption is that students would find certain teachers less inspiring because of their racial backgrounds. This very notion suggests a discriminatory attitude. Should we cater to this kind of discrimination in our community by further discrimination?

I challenge the Andover community to question the beliefs that this school has so fervently championed. Do we choose intentional racial diversity or racial nondiscrimination? We simply cannot have it both ways.