Doug Cohen: More than a numbers game

Over the past year, attempts to diversify campus have been at the forefront of the University’s goals and aspirations. Among the steps the University has taken to promote diversity have been the creation of a Council on Diversity and Inclusion and, most recently, the installation of a provost for diversity.

I have no quarrel with the objective of increasing diversity on campus – it is an important and essential aim for any college campus. We must leave school prepared to encounter a world that is becoming increasingly heterogeneous. The means by which the University is attempting to attain this end, however, is misguided and needs further re-examination.

The discussion of diversity on campus has been framed in a context that focuses heavily on particular racial statistics. We have constantly been bombarded with facts such as GW is 56 percent white, compared to 45 percent for New York University or 43 percent of Boston University, or that our faculty is 2 percent more diverse than the national average.

It often seems that calls for diversity are solely based upon the hope of being able to state that statistically, we have the same amount of white and minority students as NYU or BU.

While the racial make-up of a campus is extremely important, it should not be manufactured. Changing the racial composition of a campus takes time, and it should be a natural process, not a reactionary move against the rankings of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Diversity will forever be an ongoing process, not one that can be attempted overnight. The objective of diversity is one that should be grounded in a real desire to enrich campus, and not just to diversify for the sake of diversity.

Specifically, our obsession with statistics has shaped our discourse regarding diversity in a narrow manner. We forget that such numbers are not the only manner to achieve what every college should strive for, which is diversity of thought. We need to refocus our efforts regarding diversity so that our discussion will consider the wide range of talents and experiences that prospective students can add to the University. GW’s utmost concern should be cultivating a campus that produces the highest form of intellectual stimulus and curiosity. We should be concerned with gathering a wide range of judgments that will push our beliefs about the world to the limit, and question our preconceived notions about our community and world. Racial diversity is a large part of this, for it adds perspective and new forms of understanding to the entire University. Yet we must ensure that we don’t blind ourselves to other elements that will improve the overall quality and diversity of our school.

Characteristics such as geography, class, ideology and religion all play a role in constructing a dynamic and world-class campus, and all contribute to the diversity of thought. For example, my experience at GW would further be enriched if I met someone who wasn’t from New Jersey, California or New York, or someone who doesn’t have access to tons of money. We cannot forget that the factors that expand the limits of our knowledge can absolutely include aspects of race, but do not necessitate it.

My purpose is not to belittle minorities or malign their importance. Having racial diversity is invaluable and is essential to every single college campus. I only ask that as the University continues its quest to diversify campus, it takes a step back and examines all of the factors that contribute to the vibrant nature of any school. Diversity must be sought for the right reasons and accomplished in the correct manner, or nobody will benefit in the end.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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