Does diversity matter?
Or more specifically, are structures to support diverse cultures in higher education institutions, such as intercultural offices, necessary? Increasingly, the answer for many Americans is no. Conservative politicians and activists across the country are pushing for a more individualistic approach to the world. None of which are more radical than Governor Kristi Noem’s elimination of university diversity offices in South Dakota. But these efforts are not only out of touch with the human experience but are also extremely damaging to our public discourse and commitment to diversity and humility.
First, culture is just as much part of the human experience as the individual. Individualism does matter, but culture shapes how we view and interact with ourselves and others. In fact, the very worldview that elevates individualism above everything else is itself a product of western culture. There is no such thing as a human that only exists as an individual. Therefore, by ignoring the impact of culture, we are not really focusing on the individual, but creating an ethnocentric environment where the only valid cultural expression is Euro-American. To put it one way, Noem has replaced institutions designed to support cultural diversity with institutions designed to reinforce the majority culture. The consequences of this would be numerous. Students, who once found invaluable community in diversity offices, would be without institutional support or recognition of their cultural needs or traditions. Surviving college in a different culture is already challenging enough. Even for students from the majority culture, they would lose the structured opportunity to learn from build community with those who do not share their background. For the students involved, there is no “leftist agenda,” just a sliver of belonging and community in unfamiliar waters.
Second, attaching the idea of “culture-blindness” to conservative politics will drive American discourse further into the ground. Diversity has nothing to do with “liberal” or “conservative” politics: it’s an element of our collective humanity that we all contribute to. Loving our neighbors and dignifying them in and through differences and similarities is simply being a good human. However, attacking diversity efforts as “leftist” makes it sound deeply partisan. It creates a false equivalence of progressive values and cultural inclusion. Instead of fostering healthy fellowship, it decenters diversity efforts from people and turns it to a partisan boxing match where cooperation is traitorous. No progress will be made in this fashion. True diversity cannot be achieved by a single interest group, and progressive activists have their own blind spots when it comes to cultural inclusion. A diverse, inclusive conservative movement is essential to make everyone of all backgrounds feel welcome and heard. However, if Republicans keep turning that statement into an oxymoron, cultural inclusion will keep evolving into a political weapon that has little care for the people themselves.
Northwestern’s Intercultural Development Office is one of the most important institutions on campus. We do not have a “leftist” or “secular” agenda. Simply, the office exists to make NW a home for students of all cultural backgrounds. We do this through deeply rooted theological convictions, including the Imago Dei and our call to love our neighbors. Our work is not exclusive to any student group; I grew up in Iowa, yet I have found community.
Do not let Kristi Noem’s rhetoric divide those who care about diversity and love. If you have not already, come check out Intercultural Development. The Intercultural Club, La Mosaic and the PIECE program all offer opportunities to engage and learn with students of varying backgrounds. Hopefully, you’ll find a type of love that building belonging and dignifies our differences along with our similarities.