American universities have made it a part of their mission to embrace so-called diversity. Through a combination of outreach groups, equity officers (so official!), affirmative-action policies, and more, schools across the country have implemented measures to be as “accepting” as possible. To an extent, colleges are right to take steps to prevent the formation of a homogenous student body. Part of a university’s job is to prepare undergraduates for the rest of their lives. If all the students at Columbia were wealthy white kids from the Upper East Side, they wouldn’t be living in an environment that represents the world around them. But as they are so prone to do, the bureaucrats residing in the ivory tower have overcorrected.
As has been described in countless works, intellectual diversity at universities has greatly suffered. The pervasive cloud of wokism has seeped into almost every branch of academia. Law professors cut portions of curricula, such as the study of laws pertaining to rape, Jim Crow, and abuse, to avoid offending their students. Public medical schools punish discussion of “microaggression theory.” Worst of all, untold numbers of faculty have faced repercussions for expressing the slightest disagreement with the woke, hyper-inclusive ideology that progressives peddle.
But it is not only intellectual diversity that suffers in today’s college climate. Even the diversity that admissions officers favor, diversity of background, is weakened by wokeness.
The unhinged drive toward inclusion has resulted in some terribly exclusive practices. According to a report published by the National Association of Scholars, covering 173 private and public universities from all 50 states, over 70 percent of the schools surveyed offered separate, racially designated graduation ceremonies and residential areas. Elite institutions such as Harvard and Columbia have hopped on the bandwagon. But how will the broader student body reap the benefits of a diverse campus if the students opt into self-segregated programs?
One particularly innovative school, Chapman University, a midsize California university, has decided to host not one, not two, but seven individual graduation ceremonies based on students’ various ways of self-identifying. As one can imagine, there are problems with this. For one, it creates an almost comical scenario for Chapman students who fit under multiple categories. Maybe a gay, disabled, and Afro-Latino student should get five graduations! But, more seriously, the profusion of separate ceremonies detracts from the primary purpose of commencement. It is supposed to be a time when students in STEM, humanities, and business programs abandon their differences for the sake of celebrating their accomplishments together. Students toss their caps as one because they have finished as one. It seems wrong to have them throw their caps in separate groupuscules.
Justin Buckner (2022), the president of the Chapman University College Republicans, described why he and many of his classmates took issue with his administration’s decision. “The whole point of having [graduation] is to celebrate the collective struggles” that students experienced over the past several years. Buckner also pointed out the absence of a “separate graduation for exceptional academic achievement.” The closest I could find to such a ceremony is an “honors conference” at which select students present their capstones — hardly an equivalent.
The Chapman Student Government Association declined a request for comment.
The university’s focus on congratulating undergraduates for immutable characteristics outside their control, instead of their academic performance, shows how warped Chapman’s priorities are. This devotion to the altar of diversity has also spurred colleges to waste astronomical amounts of money. The University of Wisconsin–Madison recently hired a “Chief Diversity Officer” with an annual pay of a whopping $300,000. This clearly draws from money that could otherwise go to more pressing issues, such as scholarships based on merit or need, or funding research and academic programs. Moreover, this demonstrates the corporatization and commodification of diversity. A diversity officer isn’t going to offer me (delicious) Ethiopian cuisine or invite me to (beautiful) Bengali dances. They’re just bureaucrats who transform the differences that make people interesting into fancy statistics that universities can slap on brochures.
The spread of these separate-but-equal ceremonies and new university positions can be attributed to the proliferation of cultural centers. These groups lobby university administrations for special accommodations, ranging from funding to facilities, with names such as “La Casa Latina” and the “Lavender House.” They justify their existence by claiming to provide a community for their respective identities while also introducing people to otherwise foreign concepts. Unfortunately, speaking from personal experience, they often fail at both.
As a Cuban American, I was initially curious about my own college’s Latino cultural center. Being a student at Yale, an institution that is not particularly known for its traditionalism, my expectations were already low. Yet the welcome email from “La Casa Cultural” still managed to floor me with its greeting of “Hola, Todxs!” Now, I had heard of terms such as “Latinx” before, words used by liberals to combat the “masculinity” of the O in “Latino.” But “Todxs” was a new one — a caricature of the word “todos,” a word that means everyone. None of my friends had ever heard of “todxs,” and we hadn’t the slightest idea of how to pronounce such a vulgarity. It demonstrated that La Casa was not simply following the woke crowd — it was in the vanguard. All of my interest in my so-called community at Yale immediately evaporated. How could I respect a group that claims to represent my heritage, while it proceeds to violate the language spoken by my mother, grandparents, and great-grandparents?
Cultural-center politics alienate every minority student who has yet to be indoctrinated. Why should a conservative black student at the University of Utah join the Black Student-Union if it protests the invitation of Ben Shapiro? Why should an LGBT, pro-Israel Jew at UCSC relate to the queer center while it issues statements condemning Israel as a colonial power? No, but really, what in the world does the Israel–Palestine conflict have to do with sexual orientation? The intersectional ideology of these centers drives them to involve and associate themselves with a very specific political movement, thus destroying their ability to meaningfully speak on behalf of whatever organization they purport to represent.
Furthermore, in their journey to be inclusive, universities have taken steps to form even more cultural centers. But limited resources present practical barriers that even the most leftist of administrations cannot overcome. Their solution? Start sloppily grouping identities. Instead of having separate Chinese and Korean houses, they are both lumped into the “Asian and Pacific Islander community.” It is rather absurd that they can get away with this. What do Uzbeks, Fijians, Sri Lankans, Mongolians, Indonesians, and Vietnamese people meaningfully have in common, aside from being in the Eastern Hemisphere? The “Middle Eastern and North African” associations are even more laughable. Only an academic who is totally ignorant of historic tensions and differences could be so bold as to place the Haratin, Israelis, Berbers, Turks, Kurds, Persians, Copts, and Arabs in the same cultural group.
The best way to learn about different cultures, aside from studying them or living within them, is to simply speak with people who identify with them. Students should not need to go through a middleman. Moreover, it is worrying that members of different groups have chosen to separate themselves from their peers through racial housing and events.
Much like many of the Left’s other proposals, university initiatives to promote cosmopolitanism are misguided. Segregated graduations exacerbate and emphasize inherent differences among people, directly counteracting the supposed benefit of diverse student bodies. Cultural centers, because of the political ideologies that dominate them, lose sight of what they ought to be: unbiased expressions of a specific people. At the same time, groups of college kids do a poor job at capturing the nuanced (and sometimes blatant) distinctions between the peoples about whom they profess to have expert knowledge.
La Casa Cultural has the authority to speak for only a select few leftists who just so happen to also be of Latino descent. It doesn’t represent the Latinos of Yale. And it certainly does not represent me.