It’s easy to mock the left for their virulent obsession with “diversity” and “inclusivity.” Those words have been pounded into you since Day 1 freshman year (whoops, first-year) as a sort of post-modern summum bonum to which we must orient ourselves. Conservatives generally agree with diversity and inclusivity insofar as they provide solid foundations for free inquiry or the free marketplace of ideas.
In practice, though, both sides fall short of their ideals. Liberty University gave us an example of where the right is dictatorial in academia, but the vast majority of academic institutions aren’t run by right-wingers like Falwell (though Chancellor George F. Will has a really nice ring to it). It’s accepted that the majority of the faculty and students at your average institution of higher education are generally very left-wing.
UNC is no exception based on my own undergraduate career. I’ve written before about my personal experiences as a conservative at UNC, but one thing that continues to surprise me is the apparent lack of self-awareness among students who invite speakers, host events, or sponsor panels. As I’ve written before, if you’re supposed to be a nonpartisan organization whose goal it is to “challenge” the student body, a sixth consecutive liberal speaker may not do the job. Why not throw some conservative names into the mix, just for funsies?
But that thought never seems to cross people’s minds. This week, there will be a panel entitled “Popular Movements: A Panel Discussion.” Here’s the first line in the introduction: “This panel…will explore four contemporary popular movements.” Let’s think of some major contemporary popular movements: the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the anti-war movement, the Tea Party, the environmental movement, the immigration rights movement, maybe the Jasmine Revolution in China, or the recent unrest in Russia.
The four that were selected: Arab Spring, OWS, the environmental movement, and the immigration rights movement. Hm, no Tea Party, even though they are credited with giving the Republican Party one of the largest majorities in the U.S. House in history, completely re-focused the budget debate, and have had a marked (if negative) influence on the 2012 election? A movement so influential that liberal commentators were yearning for a similar movement on the left?
The panel is sponsored by UNC’s Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration, you say, so the Tea Party has no place? Alveda King, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s niece and daughter of his brother who was a noted civil rights activist, spoke at one of the largest Tea Party rallies in the country. And a member of the Frederick Douglass Foundation would be very willing to debate whether the Tea Party aligns with Dr. King’s vision for America.
When I expressed that sentiment on the Facebook event, one of the leaders of the event said that I had a good point, but it was too late for this year’s panel. The fact is, this shouldn’t be an issue in the first place. Whenever I question whether a group that invites speakers or sponsors panels lives up to the goals of actual diversity or inclusiveness, the response is invariably something along the lines of “Oh shoot, you’re right. Just come to our meetings to contribute!”
That shouldn’t be necessary. How can a room full of reasonably intelligent liberals not realize that they’re being unbalanced or are somehow unable to come up with a list of conservatives that they could invite? You shouldn’t pretend to be au courante if you can’t name, at minimum, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, David Brooks, or Ross Douthat which, in my experience, is a difficult project for very intelligent folks who can articulately discuss the nuances of single-payer health care systems around the world. You don’t even have to subscribe to National Review (though you should) to find more names. The internet is a lovely thing.
I don’t want a bunch of Anthony Dent clones running around (a weird accusation once leveled against me)- I want a vigorous, healthy, and free marketplace of ideas. UNC purports to be a liberal arts university whose purpose is to cast away all preconceived notions of the world in the search for truth. Offering only one viewpoint for lectures, speeches, and panels simply doesn’t do that.
Even if we ignore the liberal arts mission for the university, we can’t ignore the fact that hearing other viewpoints makes you a deeper thinker whether you agree with the speaker or not. You can sit down and read The Fatal Conceit (which everyone should do) and toss it away in disgust, but confronting opposing ideas forces you to evaluate your own and formulate reasons why you simply cannot accept this viewpoint. Or maybe reasons why you do. Either way, you come away better for it. In this age of polarization, we all could use a healthy dose of true diversity.