Why Diversity Matters, for Everyone

Bob Iuliano, the current president of Gettysburg College, a wonderful college where I used to serve as chaplain/associate dean of religious and spiritual life, wrote this fantastic piece for The Hill on race-conscious college admissions: you can read it here: https://thehill.com/opinion/congress-blog/3673515-building-diverse-campuses-requires-race-conscious-admissions/

Iuliano is uniquely qualified to write on this topic, because he previously served as Harvard University’s general counsel, coordinating the 2018 response to a lawsuit that challenged “both the means and ends by which colleges and universities admit their study body.” The timing of his piece is important: later in the fall, the US Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on this case.

Do not make the mistake of thinking his piece applies only to college admissions–it doesn’t. In the article, Iuliano makes a powerful, persuasive argument as to why diversity really matters, in all kinds of situations.

He starts by noting the deep divisions in United States society around politics, race, religion, etc., and how those divisions are fueled by the curated bubbles of like-minded news sources, friends, hobbies, clubs, etc. He note a few facts that I imagine most people will find surprising and unsettling:

Last year, a team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that 81 percent of the metropolitan areas in the United States were more segregated in 2019 than they were in 1990. Given the correlation between housing and education, the same is true for public elementary and secondary schools. Our public schools are less integrated today than they have been since the 1960s and 1970s. 

This is discouraging; however, our society doesn’t have to be this way. It is amazing the difference that “regular, personal, and meaningful interactions across racial lines [and other lines, I would say]” make; these interactions decrease prejudice, cultivate appreciation and sympathy for other people’s experiences, and foster more open and honest exchange of ideas and world views. Iuliano notes that these types of engagements and friendships create “the opportunity to lift the assumptions and blinders in which bias and prejudice thrive.”

Now, Iuliano is, of course, speaking from the perspective of the college experience, which is where many people first encounter and live in a diverse community; he worries that “an adverse decision by the court” will have a cascading series of negative ramifications that will hurt everyone, not just the underrepresented groups who often benefit from the practice of colleges and universities considering race in admissions.

But again, make no mistake, the court’s decision on this matter will have much larger ramifications that will negatively affect our whole society, because what he observes about the experience of college students is equally true for all members of society:

 a diverse student body benefits every student, of every race and background. It breaks down stereotypes, biases, and misinformation. It exposes students to different life experiences and viewpoints, which is an essential precondition to authentic learning. It readies students to participate effectively in an increasingly pluralistic society. 

Everyone needs these benefits, this exposure, this readiness. Certainly, we do in the church, which is why we here at Wartburg Seminary [and the whole ELCA] are working so hard to create a more diverse campus, more diverse and culturally competent public ministers, and truly welcoming, diverse Christian communities. The work of diversity, equity and inclusion is absolutely critical for the church to witness faithfully to the inclusive, loving gospel of Jesus Christ in the world, to embody that love, and to be a place where friendships across differences are formed, stereotypes are broken down, and mutual growth and fellowship can occur. We need more diversity: more diverse campus, diverse clubs, diverse neighborhoods and schools–more diverse churches. Not fewer. I hope the Supreme Court agrees.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s