Rethinking diversity

in formation

11 percent Black, 10 percent Latino and 1 percent Native American/American Indian/Native Alaskan/Native Hawaiian. 50 percent “of color,” 14.5 percent International, and 10 percent first-generation. Duke is colorful. Duke is global.

But how encompassing is Duke really?

Across campus it is rare—if not impossible—to find a scenario in which conservatives hold the majority opinion in any given classroom, let alone in a politics course where healthy debate is crucial to learning.

We can laud Duke for its efforts to achieve improved representation of racial and ethnic groups and its commitment to accessibility. But what ever happened to intellectual diversity?

Lively discussions make the obdurate question how they think, what they think and why they think it. They challenge participants to interrogate their reasoning, strengthen intellectuality and beget a robust understanding of how “the other side” works. Intellectual diversity offers an opportunity for growth to anyone willing to simply listen.

Since the election of President Trump, conversations on the lived experiences of rural white right-wing populist voters have become incredibly patronizing. A fascination, propagated by liberal academics who keep their distance while poking and prodding at residents of “flyover country,” can be remarkably reductive.

These stories, which draw parallels between ultra conservative mothers of four in Kansas and progressive mothers of four in Connecticut, remind us of a shared humanity. Sociologists like Arlie Russell Hochschild must continue to produce compelling narratives of Louisiana Tea Partiers. Likewise, George Packer must continue to write biographies of citizens across the country who have confronted the mortgage crisis and decline of American manufacturing in dramatically different ways.

It is important that the public have access to their writings, which demonstrate how easily common ground can be found between individuals of extremely divergent political views.

But that is not enough. Their literature is not accessible. Close-mindedness permeates liberal academic spaces, where many can boldly criticize echo chambers from the comfort of their own. As a result, individuals along the entire spectrum of political thought suffer from a lack of encounters with diverse modes of intellectual thought.

We need cordiality and we need better listeners. We need not mirror the poor comity plaguing Congress and the courts. Rather, we need to redefine what diversity means to us as individuals and communities.

At Duke, redefining diversity entails programs such as the Purple Project launched by the Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service (POLIS) this year. Programs like this encourage students and faculty to discuss area to mitigate political division and equip students to innovate uniting spaces. Importantly, POLIS events are not effective when they exist in an echo chamber. Better outreach and higher student engagement will benefit all.

Another solution is to promote intellectually stimulating discourse between students in a non-academic setting. At Davidson College, College Democrats, College Republicans and College Libertarians, three partisan student organizations, host a highly visible public debate between their members during every election year.

Davidson College Democrats President Olivia Daniels describes the quadrennial debate as, “an unparalleled opportunity to respectfully debate policies as representatives of our national parties, as per our own research and the official party platforms. The public space allows us to engage and educate other members of our college community on the issues at hand.”

Duke Democrats and Duke College Republicans should similarly hold captivating, visible and more frequent public forums that welcome student voices not represented by either of the two groups. These spaces will allow passionate students to encounter opposing beliefs—a certainly beautiful and rewarding opportunity.

Although debates between the two student groups have been held in the past, they are only timed in relation to election seasons and offer little insight into why students truly feel one way over the other. Future events, and spaces for intellectual engagement generally, should intentionally address these patterns.

In addition to increased student involvement in POLIS and structured programming, there is a lot to be said on the role changes to day-to-day perceptions can play in strengthening a culture of philosophical, religious, political, and ideological diversity on campus.

What if rather than droning to friends at lunch about the immense workload we should be proud to have balanced this semester, we shared opinions on the hegemonic stability theory? In light of recent U.S. military usage of non-nuclear bombs, or any one of the rapidly shifting paradigms of world order, the dialogue is sure to prove enticing and potentially enlightening. And maybe for non-political scientists, it won’t. In that case, choose any one of the billions of topics to discuss—the dialogue will surely be rewarding.

Beyond diversity of political thought, there are multiple arenas of spirituality, fashion, science and even fine-cuisine that eagerly await our discovery. After all, intellect is the capacity of knowledge; it is a power of knowing that encompasses all that is both abstract and not abstract. Political thought is just one example of intellectual diversity.

Look no further than your neighbor to find a litany of unique experiences you have yet to vicariously live through. Borrow their eyes and you will be amazed by all there is to appreciate. Liberal arts institutions are fortified by the opportunities they present for students to simply listen to challenging voices and engage in the long-lost art of debate.

Rather than disregarding criticisms of affirmative action as racist, it is more productive to listen and hence form nuanced lines of questioning that interrogate why one may feel a certain way about affirmative action. Obviously, there are limitations to this reasoning-- you may find yourself dealing with an obdurate and objectively racist individual. Nonetheless, dialogue plays a formative role in the articulation of intelligible views and understandings.

We are living in extraordinary times. We offer each other unique challenges to our individual modes of thinking. As we immerse ourselves in a breadth of experiences and opportunities at this cosmopolitan institution, let's not forget the sacred value of intellectual diversity.

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, “in formation,” runs on alternate Mondays.

Sabriyya Pate

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.


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