Thursday, October 13, 2011

Promoting Diversity and Prompting Anger

UC Berkeley's racist bake sale made headlines last month as a group organized it as a (ill-formed) protest against admissions decisions aimed to promote diversity on campus.

This recent article at The Chronicle explains how Elmhurst College, a small, liberal-arts school outside Chicago, caused some similar stirs with its decision to change its admissions questionnaire by adding an optional question: "Would you consider yourself a member of the LGBT community?"

Among the many reasons (all positive) for adding this question is opportunity for scholarships:
Over the years, Elmhurst has awarded what we call Enrichment Scholarships to talented students whose presence would add to the diversity and richness of campus life. Now gay and transgender students are eligible for these scholarships, too.
But not everyone is happy with this inclusion. Some have complained that allowing members of the LGBT community access to these scholarships is unfair. Elmhurst's response?
That does not, as some uninformed commentators suggested, deprive another deserving student of a scholarship. We offer scholarships of varying kinds to all qualifying admitted students; they are not capped at a certain number. Thus one student's gain is not another student's loss.
The complaints against this diversity initiative are very similar to the one lodged by the Berkeley Bake Sale group: choosing people because they enrich the diversity of the campus (through race, gender, or sexual orientation) is unfair.

Tim Wise had a great response to the Berkely Bake Sale that applies more universally as well:
by the time anyone steps on a college campus ... there has already been 12- to 13-years of institutionalized affirmative action for white folks, that is to say, racially embedded inequality, which has benefited those of us who are white. And it's only at the point of college admissions that these folks seem to get concerned with color consciousness.
Promoting diversity also means working against unearned privilege. We have to recognize that removing unearned privilege is not discrimination. It's not an attack on individuals for being a member of a privileged group, but it is an attempt to create an environment where people might learn to deconstruct that privilege in the future. A college campus is a great place to start.

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