J. Brady McCollough

As the decision in the Supreme Court regarding affirmative action approaches, I feel compelled – as an African-American, a writer and a University student – to think about diversity. To defend its admissions program, the administration has cited diversity as the main reason for such plans. Arguably, there are other notable reasons for affirmative action, but, seeing that these other reasons all hint at social and economic engineering, the University has chosen the more palatable concept of diversity. In my opinion, the diversity achieved from aggressive affirmative action is, as of now, purely numerical. True diversity is conditional, and I will attempt to explain the conditions.

This spring, University liberals and minorities decided to affirm their presence in several ways: from an anti-war gathering on the Diag to Queer Visibility Week to certain, unmentionable boycotts. Though these events are a token to the University’s diversity, I contend that this diversity is only skin deep. Let me explain further.

I recently visited Vassar College, a small, secular, liberal arts college in upstate New York where I saw the differences between that self-proclaimed liberal institution and the University. Incidentally when I visited, as a Christian, I wore a fairly recognizable, gold cross on my neck. Upon viewing said cross, my friend promptly suggested that I take it off. When I asked why, she told me that I would get inquiries all night from various Vassar students as to why I am a Christian. This is not, as it may seem, liberal discrimination or secular segregation, but it is representative of the intellectual inquiry across political and social beliefs that is most central to liberal culture. When the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Association held a kiss-in this spring, their bravado was met not with this inquiry, but with tacit demands to “keep it to themselves.”

The concept of welcomed diversity connects these two incidents, seemingly about two separate issues: sexual orientation and religious orientation. My first contention is that diversity is more than just race. This is obvious, but many do not live out this truth in their daily lives. If your friends are only those of the same religious persuasion, sexual persuasion or political persuasion, then you are missing out on the fruits of diversity: the diversity that spans beyond and goes beneath the skin.

What makes this University great is that it represents the true U.S. intermediary. It is a defiant representation of the traditional collegiate experience because it lies outside the bounds of characterization. The University knows no label – and this is coming from a continually skeptical out-of-stater. It lies in the Midwest, somewhere between the wholesome South and the cynical Northeast. It draws neo-hippies and fraternity brothers. It admits Jews, Christians and Muslims. And it attracts, of course, every major U.S. race.

All this diversity is in vain if there is no interaction. And so, my second contention is that differences should cultivate inquisitiveness and rumination. The difference between my experience at Vassar and the incidents of this spring is that, at that self-proclaimed liberal institution, diversity evolved into education. Here, diversity has devolved into the mere acknowledgement of difference. The students at Vassar did not point and laugh at my cross and they did not tell me to “keep it to myself;” instead, they asked me about it and sought understanding.

All sides, unfortunately, are indictable. Black or white, Christian or Jewish, gay or straight, poor or rich, we all feel more comfortable around those who are similar to us. Yet, bridging differences instead of simply acknowledging them will cure this University of the curse of small-mindedness and will necessitate an aggressive affirmative action program. Only with this individual action will diversity cease to be purely numerical.

Diversity goes beyond race. It spans across creeds, lifestyles and economic backgrounds. Yet, it even goes beyond that which is physical. The essence of diversity lies in the mind. At the University, we have all the physical signs of diversity – and hopefully we always will – but if we dare to claim that diversity is the main reason for affirmative action, then it is time to open our minds.

Jean can be reached at acjean@umich.edu<.

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