Diversity at Virginia Tech

No, I’m not talking about the under-representation of sheep in Blacksburg, as opposed to cows and ducks.

Virginia Tech will hire a “multi-cultural-program” director and reorganize several offices to help improve “campus diversity,” the Associated Press reports. The move comes in response to an eight percent decline in applications from black high school students since 2001. Campus race relations have been tinged, the story notes, by a series of incidents over the years, including one last year in which someone scrawled “threatening messages” on the door of the local chapter of the NAACP.

I have some questions: What is the purpose of “campus diversity?” Presumably, the goal is to make African-Americans feel more comfortable on campus in the hopes that more will apply and decide to stay. How, then, does one go about achieving that goal? Does making a fetish of “diversity” and the differences between people help African-Americans blend in? Does the systematic cultivation of group identity encourage whites (and others) to interact with African-Americans on a color-blind basis as individuals?

We can look to the University of Virginia to see what “diversity” has wrought. Conaway Haskins, publisher of the South of the James blog, and I will bring different perspectives — one black, one white — to the state of diversity at UVa in Monday’s edition of Bacon’s Rebellion.


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Comments

  1. By how you presented this post, my thoughts are you are gingerly handling a cocked gun. On the political forefront right now is the concept of organizing cultural diversity. Oddly, this promotes the ideal that people are different.

    In the past, the thrust has been to equalize how people are treated regardless of race, religion, or culture. If I was the person, deciding how these issues should be approached, I would hope that there was an effort to develop understanding between all parties and work on, not diversity, but on unity.

    Granted we are all different, but more effort should be placed on how we are alike.

  2. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I hope and believe that at most institutions, the purpose of campus diversity is to enhance the quality of education that is delivered to it’s students.

    There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that shows more diversity in the classrooms means a higher quality and depth to the educational experience.

    Race is the most visible form of diversity, or lack thereof. Recruiting more students of color and making those individuals feel more comfortable on campus is a goal of many instiutions not only so that they stay there and more students apply in the future, but also because it creates a climate condusive to learning.

    I don’t know if the cultivation of group identity encourages to interact on a color-blind basis, but I’m also not sure I would want it too. I think we should look to engage people on a color-rich basis; acknowledging differences in experience because of race and the many other ways we all different from each other. Blending in discourages us from discovering our true selves.

    The value gained from interactions with those who are different than ourselves, both in and outside the classroom, is essential to our continuing (lifelong) education. I think it should certainly be an essential element to our college education as well.

  3. Big Red Lance Avatar
    Big Red Lance

    A situation like this is also cropping up a Luther College in Iowa (as well as all across the country)

    I, too, question the value of hiring a “diversity coordinator.”

    My thoughts on the matter are posted on http://www.bigredlance.blogspot.com
    (I’m just posting this for the sake of brevity; not to spam 🙂 )

    –Lance

  4. GOPHokie Avatar

    I dunno what the big deal is with “diversity”, but VT is hellbent on it.
    The problem is that so many college rankings are so heavily based on the degree of minorities on campus, and less on how many people get offered jobs after graduation.
    I think our higher education system is misled as to their purpose.
    Thats the main problem here.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I’ve posted on this subject, yet I’ll do it again for those readers who haven’t committed the archives of Baconist dialogue to memory.

    The Anon post stands out in its drivel.

    “There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that shows more diversity in the classrooms means a higher quality and depth to the educational experience.” I would love to see the study and pore through the methodology. Methinks this is probably junk social science.

    “I don’t know if the cultivation of group identity encourages to interact on a color-blind basis, but I’m also not sure I would want it too. I think we should look to engage people on a color-rich basis; acknowledging differences in experience because of race and the many other ways we all different from each other. Blending in discourages us from discovering our true selves.” Can anyone in the blogosphere translate Babble into English?

    Our true selves is our individuality. Individuals have different experiences, learning and idiosyncratic differences for good and bad. Cultivating group identity is the antithesis of American ideas. Read the Declararation of Independence and the Constitution – especially the 13, 14 and 15 Amendments.

    For every stupid idea of group identity put the word ‘White’ in the phrase and see how you like it. You won’t and you shouldn’t.

    Outreach to every corner of the Commonwealth for the best students is great for education. Multi-cultural bureaucracy usually devolves to institutionalized racism.

  6. Let’s apply some free market principles here.

    Universities are selling educational services in an increasingly competitive market.

    The market is most competitive for the best students.

    A majority of the students graduating from high school are women. An increasing number of the students graduating from high schools are minorities.

    The schools want to sell a product that is attractive to the best students across all classifications.

    Women and minority customers increasingly look for schools (businesses) that are responsive to their needs.

    If Jim Ukrop seeks to market his store in a way that appeals to the 85% of his customers who are women, or car dealers offer manicures to attract women customers, no one gnashes their teeth and worries about institutionalized sexism. For an all out, self-described “rant” about why companies need to market specifically to women, take a look the powerpoint on marketing to women on Tom Peters’ website.

    Universities that establish diversity offices are responding to their markets. Minority students are looking for colleges and universities that show a commitment to inclusion. Women students are looking for colleges that meet their needs with appropriate programs and services (for example, extra effort on campus safety).

    Institutions that respond to these consumer desires with targeted programs and services are making smart business decisions. Right?

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Claire, The issue isn’t, as you suggest, universities “marketing” to blacks. I don’t know of anyone who has a problem with that. The issue in Virginia is the worship of “diversity” for its own sake, as if that were the only way to persuade blacks that a particular campus offers a hospitable environment. The consequences of this kind of thinking at UVa (as documented in my column this week and confirmed in Conaway Haskins’ column) is a largely self-imposed black segregation on campus. “Diversity” as actually practiced represents a 180-degree reversal of Civil Rights-era goals to create a color-blind society.

    Today, the color-blind ideal has been cast aside on U.S. campuses, including those in Virginia, in favor of ethnic identity politics. For all the talk about the “beauty” of diversity, the effect is to reinforce the sense of separateness and alientation of blacks from mainstream society.

    The reality is that racism in America is a largely spent force; racists are increasingly relegated to the powerless margins of society. But white American liberals need racism. Where would they be today without a caste of black victims to continually reaffirm their own sense of moral superiority?

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