The first report from the Diversity and Inclusiveness Initiative has been released. While lengthy, its core recommendation is to increase campus diversity. In particular, it calls for increases from members of underrepresented groups – including “need-eligible students, first-generation college goers, African-American students, Native American students and Latino students.”

There are at least two fundamental questions that are worth raising in response: Has the group appropriately defined “diversity”; and is the increase of any such forms of diversity the path – as the group believes – to realizing the goal of “community”?

It is not difficult to find diversity in the world, though it can admittedly be difficult to find it on elite college campuses. Denizens of today’s top campuses are carefully selected. Painstaking screening processes are designed to identify the best of the best of both faculty and students. At the end of the day, a fairly uniform outcome is the predictable result: Today’s universities are populated by ambitious meritocrats who have learned how to operate at high performance levels in intense environments.

They are upwardly mobile, ambitious, career-oriented and attracted to positions of power and prestige. So, it’s true that our contemporary universities are not very diverse.

It does not seem to me that the current definition of “diversity” is likely to change this situation very much if we do not acknowledge that prospective students of all the identified underrepresented groups can be fit very easily into this dominant paradigm. We can see this clearly by considering some groups that are not being marked for special attention: older students who are interested in studying for the sake of learning, home-schooled students, students who express an interest in a religious vocation, students who seek to work in the trades, students who express a primary interest in forming a family rather than career and so on. These groups would bring diversity, yes, but not our sort of diversity.

We should recognize that elite universities are actively engaged in a worldwide effort to decrease actual diversity (starting with their uniform embrace of “STEM” – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and globalization). By participating in the promotion of a single worldwide norm of advanced education, we reduce the actual diversity of views on education and attainment in the world. Do we really wish to preserve and advance diversity? Then let us reflect on the ways that we can be institutionally distinct from our aspirational peers, starting with ways we can reduce the individualist utilitarianism that underlies the meritocratic ethic. To this end, a serious reflection on our Catholic and Jesuit identity would be invaluable.

Second, the report argues that the increase of diversity will contribute to the creation of a more unified campus “community.” It remains unstated how the goal of increasing diversity will result in the formation of more cohesive community. A recent study by Harvard professor Robert Putnam has shown that diverse settings, lacking commonalities, result in a decrease of community. The report – indeed, the entire initiative – is based on the premise that there is insufficient community on campus today; oddly, its recommendation is to increase diversity rather than to focus on increasing community. If the fostering of “community” were the aim, I would submit that we need a very different set of recommendations.

In the first place, if it is community – or the attainment of something common – we seek, we might begin a serious discussion about the curriculum, which now is almost entirely an uncommon experience. Few students read the same books at the same time; even different sections of a single course (e.g. The Problem of God) can have entirely different syllabuses. Without something in common to talk about, how can we expect students to attain community?

We might also begin some serious conversations about the role of the faculty in promoting community. After all, the faculty constitutes the more permanent members here, not the students who briefly pass through our gates. Do we appropriately model community for our students? Do we show a profound commitment to fostering an atmosphere of common learning, gathering together to discuss how our classes intersect, how we can form a coherent curriculum, how we can encourage integration between the classroom and the dorm room? Do we identify more with shared aims of our Georgetown colleagues and students than with the practitioners of our respective disciplines, far-flung throughout the world?

We need to be wary of embracing the façade of diversity, one that may simply mask a uniform utilitarian campus ethic that is destructive of community. We can have robust diversity and community, but we have to be serious about examining and promoting true forms of each. We won’t have either if we settle for under-examined versions of each. We will simply have more of the same.

Patrick Deneen is an associate professor in the government department. He can be reached at deneenthehoya.com. Against the Grain appears every other Tuesday.

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