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The Diversity Paradox


In his 2001 song “High Water (For Charley Patton),” Bob Dylan wrote:

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew

“You can’t open your mind, boys

To every conceivable point of view”

The term “diversity,” like equality, justice, or love, has no clear and identifiable meaning outside of the moral tradition (or anti-tradition) in which it is spoken. For this reason, whenever the term is used to advance a set of policies at an academic institution, one’s understanding of it cannot be isolated from what its advocates believe is good, true, and beautiful. There is no such thing as “diversity” in the abstract. Nevertheless, its champions often use language that seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Take, for example, portions of the definition of diversity offered by Queensborough Community College in New York: “The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. . . .Finally, we acknowledge that categories of difference are not always fixed but also can be fluid, we respect individual rights to self-identification, and we recognize that no one culture is intrinsically superior to another.”

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