Committing to Diversity Considered Harmful

9 November 2006

Ah, voting. My father and I still vote in the same precinct, with its lovable quirks: the retired Calculus teacher that taught us both, the alphabetical-by-Republican order of candidates, and the excess of gray-haired, vanilla-skinned masses that go directly from pew to ballot box. The retiree with their lovable veiled racism; the quaint, what-if-the-terrorists-bomb-the-suburbs soccer moms, and the tax-fearing businessmen who’d rather commute two hours each day than live near brown people—they all contribute to a quaint façade of Midwestern America.

Livonians—and apparently Michiganders in general—have no need for Affirmative Action. They are voting for their own detriment, watching their tax dollars funding Universities which they think penalize them for their race and culture.

UM President Mary Sue Coleman had strong words for these people:

I am deeply disappointed that the voters of our state have rejected affirmative action as a way to help build a community that is fair and equal for all.

and Olivia Frost, professor and interim dean of my school, assured us that, SI has strategies in place designed to increase diversity, and Proposal 2 has caused us at SI to reaffirm our commitment to diversity.

Brace yourself, this might be offensive

To the Livonians I mentioned before—and at times to myself—phrases like “commitment to diversity” connote the following:

We believe in getting as many dark-hued people as we can into our institution, no matter how much we have to lower our standards to do it, and no matter how many lightly-hued people we have to screw over to do it.

It doesn’t help that recent books have asserted that socioeconomic status—and not “race” (if such a thing exists)—dictates one’s potential for success, even if those two qualities are often highly correlated.

Mary Sue Coleman has declared war on the people that pay her salary—the voters of Michigan. Fighting their needs, aspirations and fears will not succeed. Instead of being combative, we need to change our language.

Ability, not hue

I agree with Drs. Coleman and Frost at heart: working with people from varied backgrounds and with different perspectives is more important than having those with the highest grades. I’ve been shocked by the perspectives of my friends from rural communities in Norther Michigan. Gay friends of mine have expressed frustration with facets of culture I thought completely innocuous, and for valid reasons. Diversity is key to a good education.

Artificial barriers keep minorities underrepresented in universities and professional settings. Underfunded schools keep urban children from succeeding. Women don’t get onto the golf course or invited into World of Warcraft. Racism, sexism, and socially-accepted bigotry discourage minorities.

But we don’t need Affirmative Action. We need new metrics that understand and control for these variables. We need to create heuristics that can normalize grades and test scores based on actual data and not make assumptions based on gender and hue. A friend reasoned, “Affirmitive Action is a broken system, but it’s better than no system.” Instead of being combative, let’s begin imagining what that system could be.

One Response to “Committing to Diversity Considered Harmful”

  1. Kevin added,

    I know why my daughter likes you Ryan