The Magazine

Dartmouth Does Diversity

A bad idea whose time has come . . . again and again and again.

Dec 2, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 12 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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Such a daring experiment will never happen, however. Too many administrative and faculty salaries depend on keeping difference awareness at full boil. Dartmouth, for example, employs separate, full-time advisers to Latino/Latina; Asian and Asian-American; African-American; and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students. Such balkanized advising implies that Asian and black students, for example, don't share the ordinary problems faced by college students--homesickness, loony roommates, or academic overload--but instead need separate counselors who specialize in ethnicity. No wonder the college has convened a "Committee on Civil Discourse," chaired, predictably, by the director of equal opportunity and affirmative action. The committee will "maintain facilitator programs that encourage student interactions"--just what you'd expect in a world where Latino and black students allegedly need color-coded advisers. In such a world, students also need an army of "facilitators" to carry messages across the color and ethnicity line.

The second standard assumption of college diversity discourse is the psychological frailty of non-white and female students. According to the Times, an "internal" Dartmouth report (actually produced by the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity) found that minority students "felt damaged" by the college. Not just minority students, however. In the hyperventilating style favored by difference ideologues, the report's authors wrote that to hear from "students of color, women of all races and gay, lesbian or bisexual students who felt hurt, unvalued and ultimately less important to the mission of the college than others was searing indeed."

That "others" is particularly choice. By elimination, the only group not feeling pain at Dartmouth, it would seem, are heterosexual white males. The committee could have had the courage to name those insensate boors.

Now, I have never visited Dartmouth, but at the risk of offending its leaders, I will venture the following wagers: That it is as chock-full of kindly, racially "sensitive," well-meaning faculty and administrators as any liberal elite college can be. That the vast majority of its adults are entirely wrapped up in the mission of "diversity" and would like nothing better than to see Dartmouth's minority students succeed. That its student body is friendly and open-minded.

These are fighting words, and will likely provoke outrage from Dartmouth's diversity machine. In defending the image of Dartmouth as "damaging" and in need of further interventions, however, the diversity therapists will have to contend with several awkward facts: Every ethnic group but Caucasians has its own academic department; the college awards honorary degrees on the basis of color, according to its former president; and it woos black high school seniors of middling academic achievement with four-day, all-expenses-paid visits to the campus, complete with tickets to rap concerts and football games, and waives those students' application fees, as the Times itself reported in 1993.

As for women and gays, Dartmouth's women's and gender studies department offers them a cornucopia of ego-massaging fluff, courses such as "Here and Queer," "Writing, Eating and the Construction of Gender," "Gender, Space and the Environment," "Constructing Black Womanhood," and "Television and Histories of Gender."

It would undoubtedly be possible to find black and female students who will tell you that they feel "damaged" by Dartmouth. The chance that this feeling represents objective injury rather than the eager consumption of academic victimology is almost nil. As Shelby Steele has forcefully observed, the burden of civil rights discourse today is to convince blacks that they are perennially weak, not strong. The same goes for feminist ideology.

THE TIMES'S DIVERSITY ARTICLE also presents the third locus classicus of academic diversity-speak: the complaint from minority students that they are regarded as group spokesmen. A Dartmouth student tells the paper that she is "tired" of being looked to in class for the "black opinion," and of being perceived as an affirmative action admit.

This is known as wanting to eat your cake and have it too. The founding premise of diversity admissions is that skin color equates with point of view. Universities justify admitting black students with lower academic qualifications than white students on the ground that they are thereby creating a more intellectually diverse student body: A class on European history, argue the diversocrats, would not be complete without black students there to give the "black" perspective on the Peace of Augsburg, for example. Some minority students vocally support this argument. But you cannot demand admission because of your skin color, and then turn around and demand to be treated as an individual, rather than as a representative of your race.