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True diversity

Greg Yatarola | Monday, January 28, 2008

Years ago, use of racial preferences was justified mainly as social justice – blacks and Hispanics tend to be disadvantaged relative to whites, and thus should get a hand in admissions or hiring. Fair enough. As someone who grew up without car or phone, I strongly agree that lower-class applicants, whatever their color, should get a break.

But not all blacks and Hispanics are disadvantaged. In fact, when they marry and form stable families, they move into the middle class about as well as everyone else. Moreover, not all whites are privileged.

Far from it.

So in giving preferential treatment to blacks and Hispanics, it often happens that schools or employers discriminate in favor of someone who’s enjoyed more advantages, and against someone who’s had fewer.

The simple, obvious solution would be to favor those applicants who can actually show some degree of hardship in their backgrounds, instead of trying to infer it from their races. Too sensible?

In any case, the justification today for racial preferences seems to be the nebulous concept of “diversity.” Schools in particular, the argument goes, have an interest in creating a student body with the broadest possible variety of students.

I’m not denying that schools may have such an interest, though I think that interest isn’t nearly so critical as many people today argue. But then, I think the main purpose of a university is intellectual in nature, whereas a large and ever-increasing part of the educational establishment considers it to be social, even sociological. Sure, college can be a place where students learn to deal with people unlike themselves – if they spent their first eighteen years in solitary confinement.

But what is real diversity, as it relates to an institution like Notre Dame? Is it merely seeing a wide range of melanin levels?

Consider a silly analogy. One basket holds red grapes, green grapes, purple grapes and yellow grapes. The other contains red meat, red wine, kidney beans and beets. Which basket is more “diverse?”

Or a more timely example – the two political parties’ fields of presidential candidates. One party has a half-Kenyan, a half-Mexican and a half-woman; but from what I can tell, they all agree on pretty much everything. The Republican field is all white men, but they’re all over the spectrum on many issues. So which is really more diverse?

When I enrolled in the graduate program at St. John’s College, one of the first things that struck me about the place was how weird the undergraduates were. Sometimes it seemed every day was Halloween. Though St. John’s is just a fraction of the size of Notre Dame, it’s got a much wider variety of characters.

There are pothead stoners, wannabe jocks, loathsome preppies, no-kidding Marxists, adorable nerds, troubled goths, D&D-ers, S&M-ers, an unlikely clutch of devout Catholics, another of Eastern Orthodox, some Nietzscheans, Ayn Rand-ophiles, neo-pagans/Wiccans, eco-radical vegans, Zen/Buddhist posers, etc. But apart from a few kids of East or South Asian descent, the place is lily-white.

I’m not saying Notre Dame, or any place, should strive to be racially monotone. What I’m saying is that diversity is about more than skin color, if it’s even about that at all. Yeah, I too got kind of tired of meeting the same type of person over and over at Notre Dame, though with me it was mainly because that type of person wasn’t one I liked.

If you’re someone who looks around your classes and bemoans how few pigments are on display, I suggest you switch to other courses, like differential geometry, where you’ll have better things to worry about, like what the hell is that strange man writing on the board.

I would also like to know, though, while you’re wondering why there are so few black people around, do you ever wonder how come there are no rednecks? Or fundamentalists/evangelicals? Or hippie tokers, poor white trash, or Jews? Wouldn’t people like these make Notre Dame diverse too?

Assuming students bring a different perspective simply because they’re black or Hispanic is as foolish as assuming they’re poor. What would happen if a guy were admitted because he was black, but he turned out to be from a middle-class family, hated rap, and was Republican? Would he get expelled for not being really black?

And what about Hispanics who are blond? Likewise, assuming someone is just like everyone else and brings no diversity to the place, simply because he’s white, is extremely offensive. Ignorant, too.

If Notre Dame wants real diversity, I suggest that, instead of asking applicants’ racial backgrounds, admissions should ask: How many of your relatives have done time? How much pot have you smoked? Have you ever worn clothes from Goodwill, not as a joke? Squirrels: feed ’em, or eat ’em?

Naturally, not all diversity is good. Pederasts, al Qaeda sympathizers, and skinheads would all make Notre Dame more diverse; that doesn’t mean they should be tolerated. I, myself, wish the whole school were pro-life, but we’re lucky if the whole C.S.C. is. Good or bad, though, “diversity” is no excuse to discriminate by skin color. Notre Dame should stop doing so.

Greg Yatarola is a 1999 alumnus. The psychiatrist he works out with tells him he’s a very diverse person. His address is [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.