A Response to CSU Chico's Diversity Strategy

Ashley Thorne

California State University at Chico’s president, Paul Zingg, has just circulated a draft “diversity action plan for 2010-2015” titled To Form a More Inclusive Learning Community. He asks for feedback on the draft. NAS was happy to oblige:

Diversity came to have a precariously balanced double meaning.  On one side, it evoked the genuine pleasure that Americans have in cultural variety and friendship.  “Diversity” is the sweetness of knowing andliking people unlike yourself and discovering cultural variety.  This aspect of diversity found its way into mainstream marketing and a thousand greeting cards, quilt displays, and children’s TV programs. But this sweet side of diversity was never far away from a distinctly harsher reality: diversity was also based on stoking group identity by evoking (real or imaginary) grievance. Diversity had its own hierarchy of grievances.  The group with the best grievance story is African Americans, who took pride of place in any scheme for distributing the compensatory rewards of diversity.  But the grievance game had and still has lots of players.  The currency is having a narrative of how “my group” suffered at the hands of an intolerant and oppressive society.  Even if, as was often the case, an individual suffered no oppression at all, mere identification with a supposedly oppressed group would suffice.  Diversity in this second sense is a doctrine of group grievance, not a recognition of the particularities of individuals. The two sides of diversity were always in tension.  The first allows for individuality; the second demands conformity to a group identity.  One result was a whole industry of individuals explaining themselves in terms of group identity.  We saw the birth of diversity memoirs, diversity novels, diversity painting, and so on—all aimed at bridging this unbridgeable gap.  How do you make sweetness and bitterness co-resident in the same person?
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