The last few weeks have seen national attention focused on our nation's campuses, engaged once again with the issue of diversity. Student protests are spreading, and presidents/chancellors/deans are resigning. All the while, the firestorm surrounding diversity, and most especially racial issues, on our campuses continues to grow. Protests and resignations, however, only point to a fire in the house; they do not extinguish the fire.
One of the universal solutions seems to be the appointing of "diversity vice presidents." While I am sure that very qualified and capable individuals fill these positions, I am not sure that our centers of learning are thinking these decisions through. Ethnic, religious, gender, sexual identity, and primarily racial discrimination, harassment, and abuse are not solved by a diversity officer. Rather, these afflictions must be viewed as systemic and infecting the entire institution.
As a person who has spent his entire career in higher education, I know the marginalization that can take place. For example, if the historical contributions of African Americans are as significant as I know them to be, why are they not taught in the mainstream history curriculum? Why are they sometimes located in a separate department in a separate building/floor than the regular history programs? Likewise, gender and women's' studies often suffers the same fate. The major contributions of women have not been mainstreamed but are relegated to separate departments. This is marginalization at work! In the regular curriculum, African American students are very often denied the chance of learning of the contributions of their ethnic group to the history of the United States.
Several years ago, I listened to a lecture being given to students in a class entitled "Classics of World Literature." I noticed some Japanese students in the class and wondered what they must have thought if examples of Japanese literature were not included. Might they think that there were no great pieces of Japanese literature? Or, was the professor simply not familiar with such literature? While we have made progress, I am afraid that our curriculum is still the domain of the Euro-white male, and no diversity vice president can change the curriculum...
I fear that with the current racial crisis on our campuses, we are making the same marginalization errors that have occurred in the curriculum. By appointing a diversity officer, we assign that person the role of "doctor of diversity." That person is to diagnose and cure all diversity issues--an impossible task! The solution to a diversity problem becomes the purview of a certain office on a certain floor in a certain building--separated from the cultural and instructional pulse of classrooms and study halls, cafeterias and student lounges
I offer a different approach to the diversity problems on our campus--everybody is assigned the title of diversity officer. The president, however, always is the chief diversity officer. The president must take the lead in healing the campus. This healing includes far more than responding to graffiti on our walls, or the verbal taunts in our hallways. The patient, our campuses, will only be healed and rid of this affliction when every student walks onto the campus and sees an image of him/herself in the students, faculty, administration, trustees, and most importantly in the curriculum. Only the president can pull off such a "healing."