Implementing Exclusion

In a major concession to campus activists, Swarthmore’s Dean of Students, Liz Braun, has released a draft report of the so-called Diversity and Inclusion Implementation Committee. The eight-page document is a case study in far-left clichés and doublespeak—not to mention an open disrespect for academic freedom.

Rather than outlining clear policies on behalf of campus free speech to prevent shameful incidents like the May 4 board meeting or Robert Zoellick’s commencement cancellation from occurring again, Dean Braun’s September 5 email opts for vague accusations. She implies, in the introductory email, that her own students are guilty of “pernicious and omnipresent” acts of systemic “racism, homophobia, classism, xenophobia, sexism, and so forth.” Instead of legally defining what qualifies as harassment and relying upon a reasonable person standard, Braun’s email summons the thought-police: “We must not fall prey to complacency or consider our community (or ourselves) immune.” Apparently, defined and reliable campus regulations have little to offer when “diversity” is the goal.

In particularly hollow phrasing, the report tells us: “The committee recognizes that the work our community undertakes must be seen as constant and continual, as evolving but never-ending.” Incredibly, it goes on to state, “We recognize further that the goals toward which our community is striving cannot be attained simply through rules, policies, or initiatives, however well considered” (Page 2). Is this an abandonment of the College’s judicial policies? What kind of enforcement of community standards does the administration envision instead of its own “rules, policies, or initiatives”?

We doubt that the administration would look kindly upon a student who, after committing theft or vandalism,  defended himself during a College Judiciary Committee proceeding on the grounds his goals couldn’t be achieved within the confines of campus policies “however well considered.”  The U.S Supreme Court, which is still old-school enough to believe in the rule of law, ruled in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education that, for student conduct to constitute constitutionally unprotected harassment, it must be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”

In contrast, the Swarthmore Administration, blatantly ignoring the First Amendment, says it will now be on the alert for students’ “micro-aggressions,” defined as “daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or derogatory slights and insults toward members of marginalized groups” (Page 6). Any controversial comment in a Swarthmore seminar could, under this incredibly overbroad framework, be counted as a “derogatory slight” and reported to the “Discrimination Advisors” that the footnote tells us Swarthmore would like to hire.

The report also hints that the Committee’s definition of “diversity” will become paramount in the College’s hiring decisions “so that College’s faculty and staff reflect more closely the country’s diversity.” Rather than pursuing the most qualified scholars and teachers, the provost is charged with ensuring “that search committees use a broad definition of ‘good fit’ in order to attract candidates outside the traditional networks.” Who counts as diverse under this “good fit” model? Would a person of color who considers herself constitutionally conservative qualify? How about a white male who practices Buddhism? Needless to say, we find this new mandate highly dubious and discriminatory against those who fall outside the usual bounds of politically progressive “diversity.”

According to the report, the College is also planning on implementing a “series of required courses focused on living in an intentional community.” Thanks to our extremely loose distribution system, Swarthmore has no required classes in history, government, literature, arts, music, science, or mathematics but would now make ideologically-laden classes in “intentional community” a graduation requirement. The liberal arts are indeed in peril.

Additionally, President Chopp will now oversee a “diversity and inclusion initiative fund” slush fund of $50,000 per year over the next three years on behalf of the “cultivation of a diverse and inclusive learning environment.” The subtext of this is that the many scholars and lecturers to who visit Swarthmore each year are somehow not adequately contributing to our diverse academic climate. It remains entirely unclear how the administration will determine who gets included in this “inclusion initiative” and who is left outside diversity’s gates. Would an Asian American woman giving a lecture on classical economics qualify? How about an African American man speaking against affirmative action? What about a white male lecturing on the historical injustices of slavery? Somehow, we doubt these are the folks the report has in mind. For all its feel-good language, the report’s implications are decidedly exclusive.

Hopefully the draft report will undergo a thorough revision before it dictates the academic experience of Swarthmore students. For now, its proposals run roughshod over true diversity of opinion and free speech rights.

One comment

  1. Uh…. “blatantly ignoring the First Amendment” – I don’t even know what that means in this context. Swarthmore is a private institution, not a state actor. The First Amendment has no application to almost anything the College does. Same re: the reference to Davis, which was not even a First Amendment case to begin with, but a statutory question about the scope of a school board’s liability under Title IX for failing to prevent harassment. Just FYI.

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