Diversity Is Fundamental to Intellectual Progress

Variety of Backgrounds, Lifestyles Can Only Strengthen Our Campus Community

What is the role of diversity and tolerance in the life of a university? After a spate of actions directed against members of Georgetown’s various minority communities, many have argued that this university has neglected, in part, the importance of these subjects. Others, such as Anthony Riker (“One Injustice Leads to Another,” March 17) and Robert Swope (“Diversity and Georgetown: How Far Away Were We?” Feb. 29), have disputed this premise. Riker rails against the movement against hate speech as an infringement upon free speech, while Swope relegates diversity and tolerance to the indignity of quotation marks (“Under the siren calls of Georgetown’s new gods, ‘diversity,’ ‘sensitivity’ and ‘tolerance’.”).

Both argue that the prevailing movement towards diversity and tolerance in the wake of hate crimes is misguided and limits freedom of expression. At worst, according to Riker, this movement gives ammunition to an “administration and a group of minority students who were so actively seizing on the momentum generated to try to instill some sense of political correctness .” To Swope, the necessity of diversity is overblown since it “is not an end by itself and possesses no inherent value.”

I agree. Diversity is neither intrinsically good nor evil. We, as human beings, are born with the same potential for love, hate, anger, strength and weakness as the next person. Therefore, a society consisting of one culture and one race should, at least in theory, have the same human potential as one consisting of many races and many cultures. Ideally, we should be unconcerned with race or religion and defer to the concepts of individual liberty and fairness, the two goals that Swope and Riker support.

Unfortunately, we do not live in this ideal world. We live in a world of numerous nationalities, races, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds. Trying to believe that diversity is unimportant is an attempt to ignore the reality of the world around us. As we go through our four years at Georgetown, we should try to understand more clearly the people who inhabit this world, including their differences.

There are many buzzwords for it – intellectual freedom, marketplace of ideas, etc. – but the goal of education is simple: understanding. At this university, we should strive to create an intellectual setting that encompasses as many ideas as possible in order to seek the truth. Does diversity help us achieve this?

An example may clarify the answer. There is a class on American government, with 20 or so students, all with approximately the same economic, racial and religious background. In theory, discussions in that class could encompass all ideas known to man on the subject of American government, since we are all born with an unlimited potential for knowledge. In reality, each person’s background has influenced his or her thinking, thus limiting that potential. Since each student comes from the same background, each will limit the intellectual gains from discussion – they all have similar life experiences from which to add to discussion. If there is a class that consists of only people from the suburbs of New York, for instance, that will create a class that completely lacks the influence of other ideas.

If that class has students of all kinds of backgrounds, there will be intellectual contributions of all sorts, creating a view of American government that is not slanted to one race, religion or another. It will encompass numerous opinions and, therefore, will probably be much closer to the truth than one group’s opinion, however enlightened, would be by itself. This is the importance of diversity. Diversity of background leads to a diversity of ideas. And such a variety of ideas is the basis for the pursuit of knowledge upon which this university should base itself.

If a diversity of people creates a more ideal intellectual setting, then shouldn’t we do what we can to encourage everyone on this campus, of all backgrounds, to contribute to the university, as to improve our own educational experience?

Riker states with disdain that he had to attend a mandatory meeting after some misguided person scrawled racial epithets on a poster in Copley. I feel sorry for his having to waste one hour of his precious time, but many students were hurt far more than he was by the incident.

He later equates the incident as one of free speech. This may be true, I guess. Unfortunately, such actions, however protected by the First Amendment they may or may not be, harm the intellectual backdrop of this university because they frighten people, and frightened individuals are less likely to contribute to the marketplace of ideas that we want Georgetown to be. Tolerance is more than the tolerance of ideas, as Swope and Riker want to believe. Rather, it is the tolerance of the various groups, the various individuals that add different perspectives to our education here at Georgetown. People who knock over menorahs, write racial epithets or send hate mail can only detract from such learning and from personal growth.

Hate secretly distributed in the dead of night may be free speech, I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. What I do know is that such actions hurt people and damage our capacity to act as a community. As a community, we can learn from each other. As a community of many different people, we can learn much more. Diversity and tolerance – sure, they are just words. But what results from them is much more important. Understanding, community, education – in other words, what Georgetown University should be.

Slowly Losing My Mind appears every other Tuesday in The Hoya.

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