When strolling through the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, one never ventures far before hearing the hackneyed buzzwords that typify a large, left-leaning public university. Hundreds of do-good student activists seem to exist for no other reason than to promote “awareness” about a multitude of issues or campaigns. Others relentlessly seek to foster “dialogue” about the most pressing issues of the day, but when engaged by opposing points of view, quickly resort to the ad hominem attacks of “racism” or “xenophobia.” And nearly everyone—students and faculty members alike—has one particular demographic group it wishes to “empower” over others.
One word, however, in the lexicon of the leftwing campus activist is used so frequently that it has almost lost its original meaning—“diversity.” Racial diversity, ethnic diversity, gender diversity, and even the diversity of one’s sexual orientation are all embraced and obsessed over on college campuses. UNC’s fetish over these superficial forms of diversity blocks out concern over intellectual diversity, which should be the primary mission of any institution of higher education.
There is perhaps no place on Earth more sympathetic to the left-wing doctrines of diversity and multiculturalism than the American university, and UNC is, of course, no different. The evidence is everywhere. The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History has existed on campus since 1988 to “raise awareness of and appreciation for African-American culture by the campus community.” Just last year the university created the Carolina Latina/o Collaborative with the goal of “exploring and building collaborative relationships across campus and the community amongst diverse groups focusing on Latina/o affairs.” The Carolina Women’s Center has been around for well over a decade, curiously continuing despite the fact that nearly 60 percent of the student enrollment is female. The radical beliefs of the Black Student Movement, one of the largest and most influential student organizations at UNC, often go unchallenged by administration, faculty, and students alike. Scores of other student organizations also exist, representing every demographic group imaginable.
Despite the existence of these student groups and centers that cater to the needs of minority students on campus, UNC still believes it to be necessary to have an office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs that, among other things, affords students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to earn a Diversity Advocacy Certificate. In order to obtain this certificate, applicants must attend Diversity 101 Training and attend “four other diversity events on campus.”
I was perplexed by what the curriculum of diversity training would be, so I gathered a few conservative friends and bravely enrolled in one of the two-hour sessions. What more could be said about “diversity” at a campus already awash in it? What would we be trained to think or do?
Dr. M. Cookie Newsom, Director for Diversity Education and Assessment in the Office for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, led the session. Fifteen people attended: Four were UNC students and the others were administrators, academic advisors, or other university employees. Five of the attendees were white—including three students—and the remaining ten were black.
At the outset, Dr. Newsom said, “This is not an exercise in groupthink. It’s not an attempt to make sure everyone comes out of here exactly on the same page . . . and intellectual diversity is a part of diversity. You have an absolute right to think whatever you want.” I appreciated hearing that. But after spending a full two hours listening to Dr. Newsom lead a discussion exclusively about promoting racial and gender diversity and nothing about fostering or encouraging intellectual diversity on campus, I cannot help but question the sincerity of her remark.
The first major topic for discussion was the question of diversity among the UNC faculty. According to a handout provided in the class, there are three times as many male full professors at UNC as there are female. This ratio will likely equalize, reported Dr. Newsom, and eventually reverse itself, because women are currently earning degrees at a greater rate than men.
Why is that an issue? One fear that she expressed was that the teaching profession might somehow become “less valued” as it becomes more female- dominated. I thought that to be a feeble speculation since students know there are some superb women on the faculty and some mediocre men.
Dr. Newsom went on to say that the growing power of women in academia will inevitably lead to changes in the ways that courses are taught. One of the attendees pressed Dr. Newsom on this statement, claiming that he did not understand how an increase in the number of female instructors would change the way the Keynesian multiplier, for example, would be presented. Dr. Newsom replied by saying that with respect to teaching a formula in a math or hard science class, “if you go into a classroom and a man and a woman are teaching exactly the same thing, you’re going to see a difference in the presentation, in the way it’s approached, and in the way it’s broken down.”
The problem with this argument is that if you go into any classroom with two different professors regardless of their gender, race, or other traits, the course will be taught slightly differently. Two male professors are going to differ in exact teaching methods as will two female professors. All professors are slightly different from one another along countless dimensions, not just race or gender.
Later, one rather contentious issue arose—diversifying the curriculum. Dr. Newsom expressed concern that some professors are only teaching works that promote the “normative values of being Christian, heterosexual, or white,” claiming that individuals not in these categories would struggle with the curriculum. She illustrated this point by describing a non-Christian law student at UNC who did not understand a professor’s reference to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel and had to ask a Christian friend for clarification in order to understand the allusion.
As one attendee astutely suggested, the onus of having a basic familiarity with the great works of the Western tradition should be on the student, and the university would be doing a great disservice by not educating its students to that effect. Before moving on with the discussion, Dr. Newsom left us with the rhetorical question of whether or not writing such as William Shakespeare’s is relevant to everyone or only to certain people.
Discussion then turned to the issue of race consciousness and whether or not it should be encouraged or deemphasized to avoid divisiveness. Dr. Newsom argued that it is impossible to ignore racial differences. She suggested that it would be comparable to going to a grocery store and, seeing someone standing four foot eleven trying to reach a box of cornflakes on a high shelf, not helping them because you claim you are not a “heightist,” or someone that does not see height.
I found that to be a preposterous analogy because it implies that minorities are inherently inferior to whites. Being a minority isn’t at all the same as being too short to reach something.
Lastly, Dr. Newsom raised a particularly interesting point. She said that the number one issue brought to her office is the fear expressed by black students that others will think that they were admitted to UNC because of their skin color rather than their aptitude.
It’s hard not to blame the prevalence of affirmative action programs, championed by diversity advocates, for the existence of such sentiments. Seemingly every student today can recall an example from his or her high school years in which two prospective college students with identical credentials applied to the same school, with the minority candidate getting in and the white student being rejected. If this is a diversity problem at all, it’s one that has been created by the diversity fetish itself.
Attending UNC’s Diversity 101 Training was certainly an eye-opening experience. Given the university’s obsession with all things diverse, I found the training to be a useless and unnecessary exercise. As expected, the class did nothing but further perpetuate a culture of victimhood all too common on college campuses today.
With the entirety of the class focused on promoting racial and gender diversity, not once after Dr. Newsom’s initial remark was the importance of promoting a far more substantive form of diversity—intellectual diversity—raised. Sadly, I find this to be indicative of the university’s mission today of accepting “diversity” at all costs and favoring specific demographics of people over others.