Nov. 17, 2002
Anyone familiar with the argot of modern identity politics should be able to fill the blanks in this quotation from the student newspaper at Amherst College. The speaker is explaining why the minority group he belongs to should be granted its own "diversity" seat on the student senate:
"It ought to go without saying that (BLANK) students have been silenced on this campus. . . . There is only one (BLANK) among this year's faculty. . . A number of crimes have been perpetrated against (BLANK)s in recent years as a result of their . . . orientation."
Is he talking about gays and lesbians? Blacks? Hispanics? The handicapped?
Nope, none of the above. The oppressed minority being described is -- conservatives. The speaker is Theodore Hertzberg, an Amherst junior and chairman of the Amherst College Republicans. He was making the case for designating a "diversity" seat for Amherst conservatives -- a slot on the student senate that would be open to conservatives only, just like the ones specifically set aside to represent gays, Hispanics, and international students.
A nutty idea? Hertzberg certainly thinks so. That's why he was making his pitch.
"This was from the get-go an attempt to demonstrate how ridiculous the notion of diversity seats is," he was saying the other day. "They are nothing more than a way of giving preference to favored groups on campus." And what better way to prove the point than for a disfavored group to apply -- citing the same criteria used to justify other "diversity" set-asides -- and get turned down? That is exactly what happened late last month when the student senate voted to deny Hertzberg's request.
Amherst conservatives aren't the only ones claiming a share of the diversity pie. At Tufts University, editors and writers for The Primary Source, a right-of-center campus magazine, made their own bid for a designated minority slot on the student government. "Culture representatives," as they're known at Tufts, are meant to ensure that historically underrepresented groups are heard from, especially those that have been targets of abuse. And that, says Rob Lichter, a Primary Source editor, describes Tufts conservatives to a tee.
"Conservatives are a distinct minority here at Tufts, and consequently, the concerns of our community are not adquately represented," he wrote in The Tufts Daily. "Conservative students have been harassed and physically assaulted, their media stolen and vandalized. Hate messages have been scrawled on bathroom walls and dorm whiteboards, and individuals have been verbally berated and ridiculed. . . Has the Senate passed a resolution asking for dialogue with conservatives . . .? No. Has the Bias Response Team [considered] these problems with the same seriousness they show other minorities? No."
How could any sensitive liberal turn a deaf ear to such pleas? If racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities are entitled to special privileges so that their voices are heard and their concerns taken seriously, why not political or ideological minorities, too? Yet Tufts' liberals did turn a deaf ear: The conservatives' request for their own culture rep was voted down.
Why the double standard? Surely the intellectual diversity provided by young conservatives is no less important than the racial diversity provided by young blacks. If Amherst had only a single black faculty member, liberals would be appalled. Isn't it just as appalling that it has only one active faculty member -- a professor of Greek -- who is Republican? (Amherst's only other faculty Republican, political scientist Hadley Arkes, is away this year.) Imagine how isolated Amherst conservatives must feel.
And not only isolated, but vulnerable: Not long ago, someone set fire to a stack of Spectators outside the editor's dorm room. The Spectator is Amherst's only conservative paper; the message of intimidation could hardly have been clearer.
But "diversity seats" at Amherst and Tufts, like diversity policies almost everywhere, are not really about giving voice to the voiceless. Their purpose is to stack the deck, to empower those who can be trusted to toe the leftist line. An elected body that sets aside "diversity" seats debases real democracy, of course. It also debases real diversity.
"All that the social engineers of diversity mean," Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate wrote in "The Shadow University," their important 1998 book about the death of liberty and free inquiry on American campuses, "is the appreciation, celebration, and study of those people who think exactly as they do. . . . Academic diversity and multiculturalism have remarkably narrow limits -- race, gender, 'oppressed' ethnicity, and sexual preference. . . . The academic use of the terms 'diversity' and 'multicultural' has become a politicized perversion of language."
Real diversity encompasses the spectrum of human variety -- a vast array of tastes and talents, beliefs and backgrounds, passions and personalities. What passes for diversity on campus and wherever else the left holds sway is an impoverished fraud. Depressing that it should still be necessary to say so.