Columns / Discourse / April 16, 2008

The meaning of diversity

Next week, the Knox Republicans will be welcoming to our campus John Ashcroft, the former United States Attorney General. When it was announced that he would be coming, TKS published an article concerning the event, in which the president of the Knox Democrats said he planned to protest the event because “people like that need to be met with angry signs and faces wherever they go for what they’ve done to this country.”

Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, officially affiliated with the Knox Republicans. I’m sure many of your hearts have just stopped. Please take a moment to make use of your defibrillators.

Nor was he alone. Other students expressed their concerns that Ashcroft is not “very representative of the Knox student body”, and that his appearance was “highly peculiar”. Clearly, Ashcroft is not representative of the political views of this campus as a whole. But I have to wonder what would happen if the Knox Democrats brought Barack Obama back and I threatened to picket his appearance because he was not very representative of the racial composition of the Knox student body. I have no trouble whatsoever believing that I would receive a verbal (and perhaps physical) lynching for the rest of my time here at Knox, particularly if the firestorm caused by Merritt Rohlfing’s column two months ago is any indication. The reaction would be swift, outraged, self-righteous, and universally condemnatory, most of which is precisely what should happen in such a circumstance.

But while Obama represents racial diversity, Ashcroft represents diversity of a different kind, one sorely lacking on this campus. For almost three years now, I have been quite probably the most vocal representative of this diversity on this campus, and certainly in this paper. The brand of diversity to which I refer is ideological and intellectual. Ironically, while the same voices that would be loudest in condemning the author of concerns about Barack and the racial composition of the campus are also the loudest voicing the concerns that Ashcroft does not represent this campus’s ideological composition, conservatives and Republicans are actually a larger minority on this campus than blacks.

Knox has, as far as I know, commonly billed itself as a liberal arts college that embraces diversity in all its various aspects. For my part, I think we will shortly be having a test as to whether that’s true. I am at something of a loss to explain the ethical difference between the hypothetical scenario I’ve just laid out with Obama and what is actually taking place with Ashcroft. What has changed between the two is not the argument itself, merely the content of the propositions: in my scenario, where it says ‘racial’, read ‘ideological’, where ‘Obama’ read ‘Ashcroft’, where I’m doing the threatening, substitute Alex Enyart. Those are the only substantive difference between the two scenarios, yet in the real one, it’s perfectly fine to protest diversity, while in my hypothetical, it’s not.

But beyond that, even, this is a point of courtsey. I will not be picketing commencement this year, even though I hold Madame Albright responsible for the current mess we’re in with N. Korea. I did not protest the presence of the former President, even though I hold him responsible for selling state secrets, among other things, to the Chinese in return for contributions to his 1996 campaign and for the policies that led to the economic troubles he bequeathed Bush in 2001. I did not go disrupt Student Senate when they instituted their new ‘green fee’, which amounts to a tax on students and their parents, even though I deeply disagreed with it, nor on any number of other occasions. Nor, for that matter, have any conservatives or Republicans of whom I’m aware participated in such activities either, nor, I think, will they.

That said, perhaps we should. None of the people mentioned in the last paragraph are representative of my views and, to borrow a quote, I think “people like that need to be met with angry signs and faces wherever they go for what they’ve done to this country.” Perhaps this campus’s extreme liberal wing would learn something from having the tables turned on them. Probably they wouldn’t, but all the same it’d be fun to watch them pitch a fit—again—over things I’ve said or done.

Seriously, though, true diversity includes everyone, including John Ashcroft and the rest of us conservatives much of this campus seems to regard collectively as the devil incarnate. Ideological diversity is just as important, if not more so, as racial diversity to the molding and shaping of young minds. This campus must recognize this if we are to say honestly that we embrace diversity.

Chris Berger

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