The Inadequacy of Diversity

I appreciated an article in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine by Walter Benn Michaels, called Magazine > Essay: Diversity’s False Solace” href=””>Diversity’s False Solace. Mr. Michaels (perhaps a little too gleefully albeit boldly) points out the hypocrisy of U.S. universities that show how diverse their student populations are. Mr. Michaels’ point is that their marketing is authentic but that it masks the fundamental class differences in America and American education today. Yes, he says, the racial and ethnic demographics are identified but where’s the beef if everyone attending a university is rich?
I found this to be mostly true at Brown, where I went to undergrad, and at most schools like it. I’m a fan of affirmative action; however, I do wonder what will happen to this country as it slides down a superbly polarized slope where the rich eat the poor for lunch. Who really speaks to and about class these days? There are already two very structured class tiers around health insurance, home ownership, car insurance, daycare, and political representation. Once higher education, jobs, and access to clean water are divided up, it will get really scary.
Here’s an excerpt from the last paragraph of the article:
This, if you’re on the right, is the gratifying thing about campus radicalism. When student and faculty activists struggle for cultural diversity, they are in large part battling over what skin color the rich kids should have. Diversity, like gout, is a rich people’s problem. And it is also a rich people’s solution. For as long as we’re committed to thinking of difference as something that should be respected, we don’t have to worry about it as something that should be eliminated. As long as we think that our best universities are fair if they are appropriately diverse, we don’t have to worry that most people can’t go to them, while others get to do so because they’ve had the good luck to be born into relatively wealthy families. In other words, as long as the left continues to worry about diversity, the right won’t have to worry about inequality.

2 thoughts on “The Inadequacy of Diversity”

  1. Ummm… Andrew, things may have changed some in the 15-19 years since we both matriculated at the aforementioned Ivy League University, but I was not then wealthy, nor am I today. Granted, there are/were students for whom my economic model is inadequate, but I felt that I needed to chime in here.
    Maybe I’m a class-traitor (a race-traitor, too?) since I have good manners and I’ve made an effort to speak a language other than English? Idunno. But my good breeding and affirmative-action allowed YOU to enjoy my company while we were both at University.

  2. Hi Victor,
    You’re not a race- or class-traitor and I think that’s the (albeit) controversial point of this article. What Michaels is saying (or perhaps could and should say) is that diversity is critical but that the marketing and legitimacy of it by the powers that be is problematic. In other words, there are a lot of happy faces pictured in university and educational materials but how can the poor in America be included? The question is whether some on the left are focusing on diversity at the expense of poverty and economic inequality while the right is laughing all the way to Nader’s bank accounts. I wonder if there are any marketing materials produced by universities that highlight the fact that the working poor make up a large portion of their classes.

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