The current issue of The Chronicle has an article by Arthur Coleman and Scott Palmer (both lawyers who worked in the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights) entitled "No Time for Complacency on Racial Diversity." I just sent off this letter, arguing that we ought to be complacent about racial diversity, as well as diversity of all other kinds:
In their Feb. 18 article “No Time for Complacency on Racial Diversity,” Arthur Coleman and Scott Palmer seem aghast that Judge Garza (or anyone else) would question the need to continue America’s diversity mania. They repeatedly mention the “educational benefits” that supposedly flow from efforts at engineering student bodies so that there are sufficient numbers of students from a few ethnic and racial backgrounds -- such as “promoting cross-cultural understanding.” Justice O’Connor fell for the University of Michigan’s assertion that great educational benefits appear once a school achieves a “diverse” student body, but that should not stop us from asking if that wasn’t a deception. Where is there a scintilla of evidence that college students in fact come to have greater “cross-cultural understanding” because a certain percentage of their classmates are from families with different ancestries? Do white and Asian students at the University of Michigan really learn about and become sympathetic toward “black culture” because some classmates happen to be black? Isn’t the truth that black students attending the university are very culturally similar to all the others? Young Americans don’t grow up like people in isolated, hostile tribes, encountering each other with fear and loathing. They grow up knowing that people have an array of differences. They know that individuals from any background can be successful. If there is any gain in “cross-cultural understanding,” from racial preferences in college admissions, it must be extremely small. There are some areas of difference in American life where contact with students from “the other” might actually matter. For example, students who are religious doubters and those who are fervently religious might (no guarantee, but it’s possible) overcome negative stereotypes about each other if universities contrived to enroll a “critical mass” of students along the spectrum from utterly atheist to devout believer. Skin tones are just minor differences compared to religious beliefs, where we find real diversity. However, I’m aware of no schools that attempt to adjust their student bodies to accomplish the far more plausible goal of fostering “cross-religious” understanding. No, I am not advocating that they should start doing that, or trying to ensure campus diversity along other fault lines in society. It would probably accomplish very little other than to spark some heated dorm conversations. My point is that we can be “complacent” about racial diversity just as we are about religious diversity, dietary diversity, gun-ownership diversity, tobacco-diversity, and everything else.