Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Dante and Diversity 

Thanks King for mentioning Dante. And it made me think of the terrible disservice we've done to minority students telling them that Dante -- or Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Virgil, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, or any of the others -- aren't for them because they aren't a part of their culture. "Don't read dead white males; go read *The Color Purple* again." Cripes, what racist ever said a worse thing about these students than that they didn't, couldn't and shouldn't share in this massive and beautiful human heritage.
And that moves off into the larger question of diversity that people have been talking about. The university makes a great deal of noise about diversity, but the diversity it wants is very narrow and shallow, and even ironic. Universities have a diveristy of skin color and nation of origin -- ultimately superficial things that are among the least important things about a person, and the things that we say we want to make unimportant in our world -- but tolerate very little or no diversity of thought, political opinion or even religion. Stephen Carter's *Culture of Disbelief* is almost a decade old, but it still applies: We tolerate those for whom "God is a hobby" to use Carter's phrase, but are harsh on those who take their religion seriously -- we call them "fundamentalists" and, ironically, view them as rigid and intolerant as we rigidly and intolerently try to surpress them. When I commented on our faculty discussion list that perhaps the Jewish faculty members' feelings towards the Star of David would make people realize how Christians feel when their sacred symbols are violated, such as the crucifix in urine David posted or the Mary covered in Dung, the only response was from another professor who said the use of the Jewish symbol was political, and the Christans was art and hence there was no connection between the two -- this from folks who demand hyper-sensitivity from the rest of us with all their strength.
And of course the university wants little or no diversity of political opinion. George Will had a lovely essay that I read on Erin O'Connor's blog saying that if universities had any interest in diverity of thought they would give admission preference to conservative students; Will wrote a test that could determine how many extra points students should get. It's cleverly done and funny, but the bigoted, single-minded and self-contradiction situation campuses that this humor reflects isn't.

UPDATE: Thanks to Dom Olivastro for pointing out the spelling error on EriN O'Connor's name. Fixed now.