October 30, 2003
Opinion/Editorial (page 9)
Not Elsewhere Classified
Diversity has become another obligatory term in colleges’ promotional materials. "Rigorous academics... rich social life... picturesque campus... diverse student body." Most of us don't blink at that last phrase, but actually it is an interesting phrase because no one actually talks about what diversity means and why it is important. I agree that it is (vital, essential, imperative, central, significant,) [I totally caught this on Sunday, suggesting “essential” as the best word there. *sighs* It’s an obvious typographical error, so it’s not like it reflects badly on me.] for an institution of higher learning to have a diverse faculty and student body. The problem is that often we have a very selective idea of "diversity."
In her Family Weekend address, President Carol T. Christ stated that she is committed to all kinds of diversity. She listed race, ethnicity, national origin, age, class, sexual identity, religion, and political belief. Right after making that statement, she talked about minority recruitment, and no one questioned the fact that she was referring only to racial and ethnic minorities. In contexts where we weigh our words carefully before speaking, we often remember to include more than just skin color under the umbrella of "diversity." Casual speech, however, proves that our default understanding of diversity is just that particular aspect.
Although Smith focuses its minority recruitment on a specific type of minority, it does create a welcoming environment for all of its students. Well, almost all of them. Ada Comstock Scholars rarely feel like an anomaly in a class, and Dean of Religious Life Jennifer Walters does an amazing job of making students feel comfortable and affirmed regardless of their religion or spirituality. President Christ's oft-mentioned commitment to financial accessibility even in the face of budget constraints continues to show when comparing us with similar colleges in the area of financial aid. Smith's reputation as a "gay" school means it draws many students who don't quite fit the heterosexual paradigm, and Smith students continue to
See DIVERSITY page 11
Diversity continues to elude Smith campus
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be a progressive force, often working in such radical areas as transgender issues within the context of single-sex institutions. Students with conservative politics... well, they're tolerated in much the same way that homosexuals are tolerated in many places: "Well, okay, if that's how you want to live your life... but could you please not talk about it?"
If Smith were truly concerned about a diversity of points of view, wouldn't it be seeking out students whose politics lean toward the conservative end of the spectrum? Sure, Smith has a reputation as a liberal if not radical institution, but many places have reputations for being full of rich white people and are trying to change those reputations. Just as people with different class backgrounds or who have lived through different time periods can offer valuable insights into issues, particularly in classes such as sociology or government, so too can people with different political leanings. [Okay, um, it was suggested that i change these sentences, and i did and it showed up in the final copy Cate sent me. I'm guessing computer glitch along the way somewhere. Sure, Smith has a reputation as a liberal if not radical institution, but many colleges and universities such as Harvard and Princeton have reputations for being full of rich white people but are trying to change that by recruiting racial and ethnic minorities and offering lucrative financial aid packages. Just as people with different backgrounds -- be it a matter of class, age, race, or anything else -- can offer valuable new insights into issues, particularly in classes such as sociology or government, so too can people with different political leanings.] Smith encourages debate, but this debate is often circumscribed by the limited scope of political opinion on campus.
New York Times Magazine "Ethicist" Randy Cohen gave a talk here some weeks ago and said that 90 percent of Americans support the legalization of abortion, that the only people opposed to it are "3 Catholics in Alabama." If he had said something about "3 Wiccas in a forest somewhere," there would probably have been an almost immediate backlash, for we have been well-taught not to tolerate insulting generalizations, particularly about minorities. However, there was no backlash. Conservatives seem to be the only group on campus whom one can impugn almost without consequence. While few Smith students agree with everything the Bush Administration has done, hearing it ridiculed or its members compared to the Antichrist (both of which have happened in classes of mine) hardly creates a comfortable environment in which to present opinions that parallel that of the administration.
A truly diverse campus would pay as much attention to political diversity as it does to racial and ethnic diversity, for the sake of all its students. A full education requires a variety of perspectives; by minimizing and discouraging the presence of conservative voices on campus, Smith College does all its students a disservice.