Give me a man, dogmatic, problematic, a hater of women and a lover of God, so I can step on him, crucify him, rip him apart and deconstruct him. Give me a gay-hating tradition-loving human-rights-be-dammed instrument of the system! Give me anything, something! No? Not even a Republican? Fine. I will find him someplace else.
I found him at summer camp. Not the manicured ones at Yale or Wharton, but somewhere out there in a far-away quarter of the world. His name was Umar, a Nigerian Muslim with two wives. His eyes floated in an otherwise unremarkable face, and that gave him a probing look far older than 27. He had a slow, almost holy way about walking, and he always asked me to join in prayer. He was a fine gentleman, soft-spoken, meticulous and reasonable. He spoke against every value I hold dear in broken English. I liked him immensely.
He said that women have a particular place in society, and that place is beneath men. He said that homosexuals are an affront to Allah, and that they should fear for their lives. This was new to me, and he spoke quietly, with conviction but without insistence. I could not do anything but shrug my shoulders and listen. I did not know how to respond; in fact, I was excited. Here was a different man.
Fast forward to Andover, and I am in a place where students of many origins, male and female, speak out against the same things. Bigotry this, diversity that, but is there something truly at stake? Nothing is inherently wrong in championing diversity, but I see no challenge when just about everyone nods his or her head, posts a status on Facebook and goes back to homework. What is the point of talking about diversity in a community so monolithic in its values that every identity group should be respected, that every individual should be valued, as long as one keeps to an orthodoxy?
I think the limited political expression at this school illustrates the point. I doubt any student would publicly declare he or she is against gay marriage. But for gay marriage, many would insist on it as strongly as Umar against it. I, for one, am for gay marriage, but where do I base this stance? Freedom? Human dignity? These concepts are as abstract and delicate as God and faith; instead, my community, Andover, has taught me an orthodox answer.
Orthodoxy is how institutions define themselves, especially closed ones like Andover. This is a prep school after all, and every student has been screened by the admissions office to match the school’s ideals. This is no different from, say, yeshivas picking out Jewish students, or madrassas picking out Muslim students.
Andover is surely progressive, but it is not diverse in its values. Andover chooses students who are open to new experiences, who respect other cultures, who are concerned for the well being of others and who love the world in its ever-changing varieties. But Andover gives us a false sense of what diversity is and has convinced us that diversity is just enough aesthetic difference to be interesting, but with the same ideological core underneath.
I think the Andover concept of diversity does injustice to the social justice we want to see in the world. We are stuck in the “Andover Bubble,” dismissing racists and misogynists as ignorant. What these people need is an education, we think. They have to be shown the errors of their ways by us more enlightened folk. But consider: people do not think of themselves as ignorant, and evil, less so. So why have they arrived at their conclusions? In order to understand, we must interact with them. But we cannot, since they are nowhere around us! This is the problem.
Here is what I propose. We are already here at Andover, which is far from diverse. Since I am not expecting people like Umar the Misogynist Nigerian, I challenge you: play devil’s advocate, start discussions, and do something that is controversial for a change. Be annoying, and maybe even hurtful. Nice is overrated. Give your friends something to argue about, instead of something to nod their heads about.
James Jung is a four-year Senior from Seoul, South Korea.