Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Feeding the Animals? A response to VDARE (campus climate and diversity)

I am aware that by writing this blog I am promoting a fringe article, but I think that not responding equals complacency and seeing as the article had no area to comment, I figured I would move the comment here.

The article in question was posted on the blog of the VDARE and written by Carleton Alum Paul Nachman. VDare is a right-wing, anti-immigration, white nationalist organization listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a Hate Group.

I feel a need to respond because Nachman is a member of the Carleton community and because his comments are about current practices at Carleton.

You can read the full argument at his article here:

Nachman, a retired astronomer and "immigration sanity activist" who has put his money where his mouth is for the Republican party and anti-immigrant candidates is very angry at Carleton College (and Grinnell and the U of Chicago). He is angry because we (Carleton) had a diversity survey and are seeking to promote diversity at Carleton, an idea that would have been “fatuous blather" in his day. Specifically, he is responding to an email that he received as an alumni of the college about the Campus Climate Survey, whose results were revealed this term. (You can read more about that survey here). His concern is that Carleton is overemphasizing "diversity" and ditching Western Culture.

To be fair, he never really puts forward a thesis, but he discusses the focus on diversity at some length, he cites articles by Thomas Sowell and Jared Taylor which seem to fall under the umbrella of the fore mentioned statement, and he is responding directly to an email about campus diversity. He commits two major errors, one he does not understand the extent nor the importance of the Campus Climate survey and two he doesn't understand the importance of diversity.

Why is the campus climate survey not “fatuous blather"? Had Mr. Nachman read President Oden's email closely he would have seen that the survey is not directly trying to "do" anything. This entire effort is an excersice in trying to see "the big picture" of Carleton, and trying to see the Carleton that tends to get pushed by the wayside. The campus climate survey asked almost 100 questions of Carleton students and was not trying to determine if Carleton is "diverse or not," rather it was trying to show what being student/staff/faculty at Carleton. There was good news and there was bad news. The good news was that 91% of Carleton students are satisfied with their academic experience while 86% of students are content with the campus climate. The bad news was that 2% of students reported being sexually assaulted (n=34), students of color were the most likely to have seriously considered leaving Carleton (especially within their first two years) and they were least happy at Carleton. While Mr. Nachman might not agree with steps taken to further improve the campus climate, I would hope that he would acknowledge the importance of learning about ourselves, before action is taken at all. Having a positive campus climate and trying to improve the campus environment for as many people as possible, and not being satisfying with 90%, but trying to help the last 10% only makes sense to me. For a thoughtful post on the survey, check out sophomore Robert Martin's take here.

Let's get to the bigger question, why does diversity matter? Why does diversity in colleges matter? According to Paul Nachman,
"Carleton and Grinnell, in contrast, are founts of diversity-babble, which really amounts to a world view based on the devil theory of white people."

Not true.
Diversity does not mean dumping Western Civ. or old dead white men (Jill Rodde can tell you about how much that remains part of our curriculum). And no, it does not amount to a world view based on the devil theory of white people as Nachman posits. If your concern (Thomas Sowell), is ensuring a solid Western based education, be not afraid that paradigm is still solidly in place. People from all background, including yes "gasp" international students are interested in learning about Western Civilization and American Culture (Carleton has a very popular American studies major). They are also interested in learning about Eastern Civilizations and about aboriginal cultures, and about alternative cultures, and about dead white men, and young black women, and everyone in between. Learning about all of these things helps us gain a holistic, critical view of ourselves and the world and in the end learning about all of these things helps us better people and better able to understand how we think.

So, what is diversity? Diversity is simply the mixture of experiences, ideas, backgrounds, income, academic interests, and life story. This mixing is not natural, it is not always enjoyable, and Kum Ba Yah does not happen right away. But as I think most seniors at Carleton would acknowledge, that mixing does improve your moral fiber, your understanding of other people, and your understanding of the world around you. "Diversity Critics" often question why people consider race a factor in diversity, after all there are rich African-Americans and poor whites, etc? While I am sure that there are a variety of answers to this, the answer that I think most makes sense to me is that in the United States of America, there are few factors that can change your life experience (even within socio-economic groups) as much as the color of your skin.

Why do I think the climate survey is important? I think that the survey was important because it gave us an understanding of Carleton landscape for everyone else. I don't think anyone plans to fix the problems that were shown in the survey in the next week. But I do know that everyone who has seen those results now knows that there are students, mostly students are who different from the others, who feel ignored, neglected, and negatively impacted because their race, sexual orientation, or physical/mental ability.

Diversity can be done wrongly. We all know that. One of the arguments that Nachman suggests President Oden (and the readers of his post) ends with the following statement:
E. Raymond Hall, professor of biology at the University of Kansas, is the author of the definitive work on American wildlife, Mammals of North America. He states as a biological law that, "two subspecies of the same species do not occur in the same geographic area." (emphasis in the original) Human races are biological subspecies, and Prof. Hall writes specifically that this law applies to humans just as it does to other mammals: "To imagine one subspecies of man living together on equal terms for long with another subspecies is but wishful thinking and leads only to disaster and oblivion for one or the other."

Human nature is part of animal nature. Racial diversity, which only whites promote--and always at their own expense--is nothing more than unilateral disarmament in a dangerous world. If current population movements continue, and if the thinking of whites remains unchanged, there will be little doubt as to which group's fate will be the "disaster and oblivion" Prof. Hall so confidently predicts

The author, and this biologist clearly don't realize that people of different races are NOT subspecies of humans. You can read more fully about that here, but the point remains the same, the arguments that Nachman and others are making are relying on specifically on that lack of critical thought which an education with peers and educators of diverse backgrounds provides.

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