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Esemplare ’18: Redefining diversity

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, April 14, 2016

Over the course of the current academic year, perhaps no topic has been more in the consciousness of the Brown community than diversity. Diversity is a common buzzword on college campuses, and we all have at least some sense of what it represents. Whether you have joined in a protest this semester or not, you’ve probably at least considered what diversity means and how it affects the University.

At Brown and across other campuses, diversity has come to be narrowly defined as the representation of  certain marginalized groups. Indeed, attracting these groups to Brown’s campus is an important aspect of making Brown the type of diverse community that it strives to be. The purpose of such diversifying efforts is twofold: On a societal level, access to a college education has a meaningful effect on the opportunities open to individuals. Providing equitable access to higher education can thus serve as a tool to combat systemic social issues. On the university level, such diversifying efforts also aim to create an enriching environment on campuses, fostering various perspectives that reflect a large breadth of experience. We expend a great deal of energy addressing the first purpose of diversity in uplifting marginalized groups but sometimes overlook important factors that help us achieve the second purpose — to create a campus environment with truly diverse perspectives. As a result, we limit the meaning of the word diversity in both concept and action and are unable to reap its full benefits.

While I support the effort to advocate on behalf of historically marginalized groups, I do find it interesting and sometimes frustrating that, at Brown and campuses across the country, we often have difficulty imagining what diversity would look like beyond this narrow definition of the word. Indeed, to call for increased diversity on campus is essentially shorthand for calling to increase representation of marginalized groups. In literal terms, this significantly narrows the word’s true meaning. In no trivial sense, we have redefined diversity as the need to combat marginalization. This is not to dismiss the value of one definition of diversity but to call attention to both definitions.

But I have more than a linguistic qualm with the word diversity’s modern usage. While the current connotation is consistent with my progressive values, I am still frustrated by the extent to which intelligent people fail to consider that diversity can exist outside the realm of historically marginalized groups. One area of this issue that Brown students would benefit by paying particular attention to is political diversity on campus.

While Brown proudly boasts its minority enrollment as diversity, anyone who has attended the school knows that to call Brown a diverse community is to blatantly ignore the lack of diversity of political thought on its campus. Most people who have heard of Brown know its stereotype — a recent Forbes list of college rankings mentions Brown’s reputation as the most liberal Ivy. A campus survey from this past fall states the matter more clearly: The leading Republican candidate for Brown students at the time was U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, with the support of 1.6 percent of the student body. That number is staggeringly low, even for a liberal campus. In fact, cumulatively only 4.2 percent of students supported any of the three Republican candidates listed in the survey. Think of it this way: In a representative sample of 100 Brown students, you would expect to find about four who supported a Republican candidate at the time. That’s a diversity problem.

As stated above, one of the common arguments of those who support, for example, racial diversity, is that the exposure to a variety of different cultures and opinions helps improve educational experiences for all students. Using this logic, how can Brown be so complacently uniform in terms of its political orientation? If diverse opinions are what we are after, and if diversity is worth a $165 million investment, how can the campus’s current state of political uniformity not be harmful to education? Regardless of the party you vote for, it is necessary to come into contact with and exchange ideas that differ from your own. If Brown is a liberal bubble, it is to the detriment of the education it attempts to provide.

Earlier this semester, I attended a workshop run by the Brown Center for Students of Color entitled “Telling Diverse Narratives” for The Herald. The workshop was informative and addressed, among other topics, how language can be used to perpetuate marginalization. Nothing about the topic bothered me, and I felt that the workshop was well-intended and well-run. But I was bothered by the workshop’s inability to distinguish diversity from marginalization because the workshop, in truth, was not about “telling diverse narratives” in any sense, not if we consider diversity’s broader definition. Over the course of the workshop, it was impossible not to be struck by the fact that there was a very clear general air of agreement in the room as to what was right and wrong. Liberal values were, by the general consensus, correct, and the word “conservative” was occasionally used interchangeably with “unaccepting.” While the discussion centered on how language can be used to perpetuate marginalization, it often focused on language used specifically by Republicans. As an Independent with socially progressive views, it was easy to stay silent during these proceedings and be comforted by the like-mindedness of the group. But looking back, the uniformity of thought in that room diminished the conversation’s value. What could have been an educated debate was, due to a lack of diversity of political representation, reduced to a one-sided discussion that lacked an alternative perspective.

As a generally progressive student body, it is tempting to collectively decide that Brown’s liberal nature is explicitly good. Socially liberal ideologies are frequently deemed more accepting and inclusive than conservative ones, and liberal students in general are thus often convinced that a progressive campus indicates the type of inclusivity that Brown fosters. Nonetheless, if the workshop’s purported goal is to be achieved, one must first recognize that liberalism still does not represent diversity  in any meaningful sense. My qualm is not truly with the workshop, but with its title, which neglects the meaning of diversity outside of marginalized groups. Brown students often express a breed of snobbish ignorance when they chastise Fox News for its political bias but can’t seem to see their own. As a progressive student at a liberal university, I receive almost no conservative opposition to my social views. This can be comforting, but it is also patently dangerous. People are often quite sure that the opposition should hear their opinions but far less certain that they have any use for the opposition’s. 

This problem is not new to Brown, but perhaps this lack of diversity feels more alarming in light of the polarized political environment in our country. Compromise is an afterthought in a political system that revolves around ideological warfare. Our presidential debates are contemptuous. In its current state, Brown serves only to perpetuate this divide that, more than any crisis of national defense, threatens the demise of our nation. Indeed, we can only become the solution to this national emergency if our campus is a politically pluralistic environment and its students are comfortable and well-versed in the healthy exchange of disparate views.

Nicholas Esemplare ’18 can be reached at nicholas_esemplare@brown.edu.

Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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  1. Willie Sam says:

    Thanks for this fantastic article. It would be interesting to try to trace some of the reasons that Brown has so little intellectual and political diversity. For example, Brown used to have an influential libertarian and “non conformist” segment of the student body which I suppose is now quite neutered. As far as I know, the school is also the only Ivy without a publication for students with conservative or libertarian opinions. Therefore, campus debate is pretty much restricted between liberal vs extremely liberal factions of the student body. This was exemplified in the Ray Kelly Affair in which 50% of the student body agreed that Ray Kelly was repugnant but should get to speak while 50% argued that he shouldn’t.

    One interesting debate that the campus will have in the near future is whether Brown’s long tradition of having no course requirements will be overturned as students will soon be required to take “Diversity and Inclusion” courses, thus officially ending the legacy of the “New Curriculum” once and for all. At that point the school’s transformation will be complete as Brown will become the Liberty University of the Left.

  2. Man with Axe says:

    This was well-written and thoughtful, and very necessary. Young people in a bubble, as Brown is, similar to so many other universities today, don’t have the valuable opportunity to test their views in the crucible of divergent opinions. This makes their opinions more feeble the stronger they are held, as they don’t have a clue about the arguments from the other side. They come off as so sure of the correctness of their views (often horribly incorrect) that someone with just a little bit less ignorance than they can and will make mincemeat of their positions.

    Willie Sam, in his comment, mentioned the Ray Kelly affair. I went and read the defense of the protesters that was penned at the time by one of them, Doreen St. Felix, in the Guardian. it was remarkable for its ignorance of how the world outside Brown and other progressive precincts views such issues. St. Felix is clearly someone who has never had a conversation with a conservative.

    I recall a conversation I had many years ago shortly after I finished my education. A couple of guys in the office where I worked at the time raised the issue of guns, and I assumed that, like all educated people, they favored gun control. They did not. Instead, they gave me an education in the arguments for gun rights, arguments which I had never considered. Regardless of whether they persuaded me or not, at the least I had my views challenged, and either they would change or they would be stronger for the ability to take on counter-arguments.

    This is what Brown students are being denied.

  3. Ron Ruggieri says:

    I am sure busy Brown University students won’t welcome with giddy expectation one more book recommendation. But this book really puts the right slant on ” diversity “: ” The Trouble With Diversity- how we learned to love identity and ignore inequality “, by Walter Benn Michaels. The book was published- and also mostly ignored – back in 2006. A back cover blurb says : ” perhaps the most incisive book yet on how liberalism -in its polite,well-meaning way-missed the boat on the greatest liberal issue of our time : inequality…. worse, with its obsessive concern for diversity,has managed to make the problem invisible “.
    As a supporter of ” socialist ” Bernie Sanders – just a few years younger- I recommend ” The Trouble With Diversity ” as an anti-dote to the effete identity politics of neo-liberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton.
    To be sure, the white working class , poor whites, have experienced media ” invisibility ” for decades now. In general class trumps race as the root of social injustice.

  4. Gary Smith says:

    If you think Trump is a racist who sees any color other than green, you might be a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. Take a look at his life and career; he has always hired, worked with, and supported people of all walks of life. Furthermore, Illegal immigrants and Muslims are not races. Muslims are great people; unfortunately, the terrorists we are at war with are a small sect within that group, so while the idea of being extra vigilant about vetting new immigrants from that group is regrettable, it would also be prudent for our own safety. The big exploiters love having their puppets use labels of racism to tear down people they don’t control (Ross Perot, Ron Paul, Trump, etc); don’t fall for it!

    If you think Megyn Kelly isn’t an exploiter (establishment) tool who tried to take down Trump, and you think Trump is a misogynist because of the bloodlust comments he made regarding her (while making bloodlust comments about Chris Wallace at the same time) then you might be a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. Trump states “I’m just oblivious to a person’s gender” when dealing with people, and it is obvious that he takes on opponents of any shape, size, color, and gender in a similar fashion.

    If you think Trump is an isolationist because he wants fair trade, you might be a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. “Free-trade” comes at a huge cost to workers in developed countries! The end result is that America will produce nothing and will provide no services outside our borders because services and products will always be cheaper from poorer countries. Anyone who says anything else concerning free-trade is either lying, or is completely clueless. American middle class workers can only survive and thrive with “FAIR-trade.”

    90% of the cocaine in America comes through our southern border; 80% of the meth and heroin in America also comes through our southern border! If you think Trump, who continually says “I love Mexican people,” is a xenophobe because he wants to secure our southern border, you might be a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. Trump’s negative comments were targeted at a subset of illegal immigrants (which he has clarified many times); NOT Mexicans! Illegal immigration is destroying our society (illegal immigrant children are almost always below grade level so teachers have to spend most of their time teaching at that level, which hurts our children; illegal immigration keeps wages low; and the drugs from south of our border are ruining our children’s lives).

    If you think Trump wants to punish women for having abortions, you might be a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. Trump said he made a gaffe during a convoluted conversation involving a hypothetical situation. He has clarified that in the real world he would like to see abortion regulations left up to each state. Making gaffes is human, and having a politician willing to engage in “off the cuff” conversations without consulting an army of advisers beforehand is refreshing.

    If you think Trump is ignorant because he thinks it might be more pragmatic for Japan to have a nuke rather than having 54,000 U.S. troops stationed there at our expense, you might be a gullible fool subject to exploiter-funded media influence. The simple fact is that nothing ensures sovereignty like having a nuke. No country with a nuke has been or ever will be invaded. We would have never invaded Iraq if they had a nuke; in fact, the best evidence that we knew they didn’t really have any WMDs was the fact we invaded them. The 54,000 troops we have in Japan are absolutely no deterrent for North Korea, China, or anyone else; what deters them is the fact we have nukes. Furthermore, what would happen to Japan if they can’t defend themselves and we go bankrupt over the next decade or so?

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