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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THE COUNTRY IS ON THE BRINK OF WAR, it faces the likelihood of another terrorist attack, and the New York Times is worried that Americans are not paying enough attention to race and gender. Two front-page articles on November 12--one on college diversity programs, the other on a golf club's all-male membership policy--offer a stunning demonstration of the loony irrelevance of Howell Raines's Times.

The academic obsession with "racial difference" has been an exhaustively documented feature of campus life for over two decades, yet the Times offers its story on the alleged necessity of college diversity training as a scoop. The article, "Colleges Find Diversity Is Not Just Numbers," leads with a freshman orientation program at Dartmouth College that focuses on racial difference. The Times presents the program as part of Dartmouth's "new push" to "embrac[e] diversity." That "push" is itself part of a broader trend across colleges to respond to difference, announces the Times.

It's difficult to know which party suffers from a more severe case of amnesia: the Times or Dartmouth. A decade ago, the paper ran an article on the "new freshman orientation . . . in the new world of diversity and multiculturalism." The "new" freshman orientation of 1992 featured programs on racial, ethnic, and sexual difference, premised on the idea that without diversity reeducation, certain college students would subject certain other students to an unceasing barrage of discrimination. The "new" freshman orientation of 2002 features, well, programs on racial, ethnic, and sexual difference, premised on the idea that without diversity reeducation, certain college students would subject certain other students to an unceasing barrage of discrimination. The "new" Dartmouth of 2002 offers staff workshops on "think[ing] of [the college] in terms of classism, racism, and sexism," reports the Times. In 1992, Dartmouth required freshmen to attend workshops on "the various forms of 'isms': sexism, racism, classism, etc.," an assistant dean of freshmen told me back then in an interview for the Wall Street Journal.

But this dreary monotony is just the point. The diversity industry, of which the New York Times is an integral part, perpetuates itself by constantly repackaging as new old nostrums about alleged ethnic friction and its therapeutic solution. However hoary the conceits in the Times's recent college diversity article, it is worth studying in some detail as a textbook example of the diversity industry in action.

The college diversity scam contains four perennial features: (1) administrative deceit; (2) the pretense of acute minority and female fragility; (3) the hypocritical insistence on having it both ways; and (4) assiduous avoidance of the one true difference problem on campus.

Dartmouth's president, James Wright, told incoming freshmen this year that the faculty and administration were "eager" to help them in the "challenge" of transcending "boundaries" of race and class, reports the Times. This is pure bunk. If college administrators really wanted to help students transcend "difference," they would stop yapping about it all the time. President Wright made his offer in a speech on "diversity," thus underlining the very differences he claims to want to overcome. Moreover, he presides over an administration and curriculum organized around racial, ethnic, and sexual identity. Dartmouth students will soon be required to take a course in "identity formation."

If university bureaucrats were truly interested in unifying their campuses, they could try a radical experiment: immerse students in the rigorous study of great works of literature, art, and philosophy, the achievements of science and math, and the history of nations, period. Stop harping on racism and sexism and the "challenges" of overcoming difference. Assume that students actually have the capacity to make friends without the intercession of counselors and diversity deans.