February 17, 2004

The State of Diversity at SU

AAAAAHHHHH!!!! I'm surrounded by sick people! My roommate is sick, my roommate's girlfriend was sick, one of the guys across the hall is sick, four people on my floor have vomited in the past 24 hours, my astronomy professor has a cold...AAAAAAHHHH!!!!! I can almost guarantee that I'll have some sort of debilitating illness by the end of the week.

Until then, I'll focus on the topic I mentioned earlier. I was checking my SU "Orangemail" today, and I noticed a message that included the following:

Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw has created a comprehensive report on
efforts to support the core value of diversity at Syracuse
University. Titled “Reinforcing Diversity’s Importance at
Syracuse University”... The report outlines initiatives in the areas of prevention and education, and sets forth the challenges for the future in this
critical area.

This sounded interesting, and it's probably the last major work for Shaw before Nancy "The Illinois mascot is a negative stereotype of Native-Americans" Cantor takes over as chancellor next year, so I checked it out. In this post, I'll look at some of the ways Syracuse has "reinforced diversity's importance." I'll just be quoting selectively (I hope this is legal), but you can see the entire report here. I'll begin the review in the extended entry.

Incidentally, I know at least a couple of my readers are also college students. If your schools have done something similar to this, it would be interesting to hear about it (I also know from my Sitemeter stats that at least one Syracuse student reads the blog on occasion. If you have an opinion on what "Buzz" has written, feel free to leave a comment). Just a suggestion. Anyway, let's look at SU's strategy (this post is going to be very long, just so you know):

As a result of the recent Supreme Court rulings on Affirmative Action in higher education, some members of the Syracuse University community have asked about what we are doing to further our commitment to our core value of diversity.

What'll we do without our precious quotas?

I assure you our commitment is deep and ongoing, and we are committed not simply to tolerance of various peoples and views, but to an appreciation of the richness that these differences create for all of us. It is the diversity of our community that enriches our experiences and offers opportunity for robust academic dialogue and personal growth, which is the reason why we are all here.

Uh...I'm here to learn how to write and produce films and TV shows. I didn't apply for the diversity.

Enhancing diversity for our community members is one of the top priorities of the University. It is a major focus in the University's Academic Plan and the Division of Student Affairs Strategic Plan. The Divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs published the Diversity Digest...

Yes, you did actually read that. They published "Diversity Digest." Fascinating. Do you think they like diversity? I can't quite tell for sure.

...in 2003 to outline the many programs and activities that support diversity at Syracuse University. This inaugural edition focused on race and ethnicity and highlighted the following related activities:

* 7 Pre-College Programs
* 37 College Programs
* 4 National Awards
* 10 Graduate Programs
* 11 Offices and Centers
* 11 Annual Conferences, Programs and Events

All this for a concept that isn't even clearly defined. How do they do it?

The first edition was designed to stimulate discussion and growth on the topics of race and ethnicity. Future issues will explore diversity in all its facets, including gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, internationalization, and disability.

I'm confused here. Is there anything that DOESN'T count as diversity? What standard of homogeneity are they using for comparison (my guess is something along the lines of "the agents in 'The Matrix,'" but that's just me)?

Skipping ahead a bit...

Resident advisors conduct ongoing programming around diversity issues.

I remember that. At the first floor meeting, one of my RAs said something to the effect of, "Don't go saying stuff like 'that's gay' or 'that's retarded.' You never know who you're offending. Where I come from, we talk like that all the time, but you have to be careful here."

Also, the "No Place for Hate" campaign continues in our residence halls to raise student awareness around issues of discrimination and bias and to educate students on the appreciation and acceptance of diversity and multiculturalism at Syracuse University.

Notice the phrasing there. Did you see "tolerance" listed? Nope. Know why? Because they've decided that tolerance is no longer good enough. You must now appreciate and accept whatever diversity is. Anything less is hateful.

This program sends the message that we want all students to have experiences that allow for holistic development, growth, and maturity into global citizens who can function and contribute while at Syracuse University and beyond. We believe a campaign of this magnitude will spark dialogue, interaction, and reflection to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students.

...Except those students who dare to question the idea that diversity and multiculturalism are as important as knowledge, if not more.

I know I'm exaggerating this a bit, but I've seen enough that I know where this kind of thinking can potentially lead. As a straight white male, I apparently don't contribute to "diversity," so it's assumed that I need the concept pounded into my head repeatedly. Let's skip ahead again and see how they're doing that:

One aspect of securing SU's foundation as a student-centered research university is enhancing the intellectual climate through diversity. Strategies for accomplishing this include:

* Increasing the diversity of faculty;
* Continuing to increase the diversity of the student body; and,
* Improving the intellectual climate of respect and inclusion for all members of the University community.

I still don't know what they mean by "increasing diversity." What standard are they judging this concept against, and why won't they tell us? Unless this is "Brave New World," and everyone belongs to a specific genetic class, I'd say diversity is an innate human characteristic.

Efforts to increase the diversity of faculty have resulted in historically underrepresented groups making up almost 18 percent of the full-time faculty, putting SU ahead of the national average for private universities in this regard. Last year, resources were made available to the schools and colleges to help them aggressively find, recruit, and retain outstanding scholars from ethnic and cultural groups that are currently underrepresented.

At least they're using a strategy that's legal. I wonder, though, if there's any limit to diversity. What happens if traditionally underrepresented groups make up more of the university population than the non-diverse groups? Will they have to fire minorities? I doubt it, because firing people based on race is racism. Isn't it?

I'll skip ahead again, because I noticed some interesting juxtaposition in the next section:

The University continues to work toward increasing the diversity of the student body...This position has led to the formation of a special committee on diversity that includes a broad range of faculty, students, and staff that functions not only as an advisory committee but actively participates in recruitment events for African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American students.

Now, knowing that they target specific groups, you should be caught off-guard by this next sentence:

An intellectual climate of respect and inclusion for all members of the University community has been fostered through a variety of initiatives.

"Respect and inclusion" apparently doesn't apply to people who aren't "traditionally underrepresented." I like how they claim to foster a climate of inclusion for all students while focusing more energy on specific racial and ethnic populations. It's almost like they're excluding some groups. Hmmm...

Now, we'll look at some of the methods they've used to increase understanding and respect...or something like that:

Dialogue Circles on race and ethnicity are currently in place for students in the Honors Program. The Division of Student Affairs will introduce these programs to residence halls during the 2004-05 academic year. Dialogue circles can enhance intellectual understanding by bringing people from diverse backgrounds and experiences together in conversation that can help develop trust, understanding, appreciation, and collaboration. The dialogue process has the potential for building the trusting relationships necessary for long-term change.

Dialogue circles? I have no idea what that means, but for some reason, I have a feeling that it involves making white people admit that they hate minorities and have only gotten by on privilege. Just a thought.

The Kaleidoscope Project, a new collaborative diversity initiative between the divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, provides matching grants (up to $5,000 each) to support departments and recognized student organizations in fostering educational opportunities that expose students at SU to diversity-rich experiences that promote awareness, appreciation, and respect.

Does anyone understand what these things mean? Shouldn't the simple act of going to class be enough to expose students to diversity? What are they doing differently in these programs?

Moving ahead again...

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Resource Center maintains a web page called "Learn More" that has information on LGBT topics such as: coming out, allies, health, bisexuality, transgender people, career/job search, religion and spirituality, hate crimes and discrimination, and domestic violence in LGBT relationships.

I've always wondered something: How does sexual orientation contribute to diversity? Why don't we apply the "diverse sexual preferences" theme to the whole community? I hereby propose a "Guys Who are Attracted to Blonde Women with Big Boobies Resource Center." After all, we should learn to appreciate everyone's individual sexual preference, right? RIGHT???

Moving ahead again, we have a great example of doublethink (is that a word?):

...learning communities include the multicultural living-learning community (MLLC), whose goal is to "create an environment where multiculturalism in its various shapes is appreciated, respected, and valued." The MLLC links academic experiences with co-curricular activities, such as a visiting lecture series, a year-long programming calendar, peer advising, facilitated discussions, and skill-building techniques to counter oppression.

I'm amazed by this. Apparently, despite the fact that the entire university community is a diverse and multicultural environment, we can achieve true understanding by segregating students in "multicultural living-learning communities" and emphasizing the fact that they're being oppressed.

Do all the minorities living in randomly assigned housing know that they're in an oppressive environment right now? Why can't we celebrate multiculturalism in all the living communities? I had no idea that segregation was the key to inclusion!

Skipping ahead once again...

The Writing Program has embarked on a project that will design and field-test teaching materials that approach diversity through multiple points of entry and ultimately will teach students to take diversity into account as a key component to successful communication, from audience analysis to document design.

How exactly do you teach students to take diversity into account?

Issues-related information will be available on-line to assist in curriculum infusion, and the Diversity Speakers Series and Campus Forums on Diversity will continue.

From what I've seen, the Diversity Speakers Series basically consists of putting a famous black person behind a microphone and letting them talk about anything they want (James Earl Jones, Chuck D., Phylicia Rashad, etc.).

Students in Psychology 205...

Hey, I'm a student in Psychology 205!

...will learn about individual differences in regard to major topics in psychology.

The class is actually called "Psychology of Individual Differences." I don't recall diversity being mentioned yet. Today's lecture was about memory.

Diversity-infused coursework is also evident in numerous schools and colleges, including The College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Human Services and Health Professions, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the School of Architecture, the School of Education, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and other University offices and departments.

What qualifies something as "diversity infused coursework," dang it? They never explain what they mean by that. I'm in my second semester, and I don't recall any coursework dealing specifically with diversity or multiculturalism or any of these other values they talk about so much. Did I miss that?

Anyway, there's a lot more there, but I have to stop now and do some actual work. I just think it's strange how much these people talk about diversity without really explaining what it is or what specific methods they're using to enforce it.

The basic message I always get is, "Everybody can make a valuable contribution to the social and intellectual environment at this university, but if you happen to be a heterosexual caucasian male, your beliefs and cultural values count as the 'default' group, and you should step out of your 'comfort zone' and embrace every other group. The same standards will not be applied to these other groups, because you and your kind have oppressed them for too long and invaded their unique cultures, so you should just learn to appreciate them."

In all fairness, SU is still a lot less crazy than other universities. There's no zero-tolerance policy, there are no elaborate speech codes, and the professors don't seem to inject too many of their personal views into the lessons (I've blogged about a few exceptions to this). However, with the lengths some schools have gone to, you never know what'll happen here next...

Posted by CD on February 17, 2004 11:34 PM
Semi-Intelligent Comments

I really enjoyed reading Illiberal Education by Dinesh D'Souza. It's a little dated (early 90s) but was quite interesting. Have you ever read any of his stuff?

Posted by: Sarah at February 18, 2004 05:38 AM

I haven't, but I'd like to. I've heard good things.

Posted by: CD at February 18, 2004 09:49 AM

D'Souza's works are all very good. His latest "What's so great about America" is also quite good as well.

Believe it or not, your university library may also have some of his books (really! Even though he's an "evil" conservative) ;)

Posted by: jaws at February 18, 2004 11:53 AM

Muahahahaha! You got stuck with Nancy Cantor!

As a loyal Univ of Illinois fan (and a chief supporter), I wrote a little bit on her departure. http://www.gleefulextremist.com/2004_02_01_archive.html#107634080704914763

I encourage all Syracuse students to start a movement to bring back the Saltine Warrior.

Posted by: GE at February 18, 2004 02:02 PM

If one were to spend years puzzling over the definition of diversity, as I have, it could appear that there is a general theory and meaning to diversity as a "core value". The diversity is everything except the dominant, but that may compete for resources with the dominant. The dominant is that which tends to spread at the expense of the diversity, or the potential of the non-dominant. The dominant is somewhat like the "fit" in natural selection, except that it can be a cultural dominant also. From this it follows that the weak and all that is losing out to a dominant is valuable or even ideal ,for that very reason. Likewise, diversity as a central value means we must hate the strong and wish destruction on them. But man is the dominant species, therefore diversity valuing is anti-human.Why the caucasians, the west and so on as enemies in particular? Because these expanded at the expense of the diversity of native tribal peoples, languages and cultures, and if the former circumstances came back, might do so again. If more is wanted on diversity-value, go to the screennames' page below...

Posted by: john s bolton at March 31, 2004 02:54 AM
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