The Cost of Inclusivity

The Cost of Inclusivity
AP Photo/The State Journal, Robert Killips

These days, the words “diversity” and “inclusion” are as ubiquitous on colleges and universities as lanyards and backpacks. Stapled to signboards and tacked on to department websites, the words signal the best intentions of diversity and inclusion councils—crafting recommendations to promote the ideals reflected in their name. But these programs and policies are not without consequence. Indeed, the ideal of inclusivity is often implemented at the cost of one of the most foundational principles of the university: free and open expression.

Diversity and inclusion councils seek to resolve this dissonance with the idea that individuals should conform to their colleague’s sensibilities—it’s not your classmate’s fault he got upset, it’s yours for saying something he found upsetting. Of course, this is a complete perversion of personal responsibility, one that ends with the egregious expectation that students are to self-censor to save the feelings of others. But doing that for the sake of inclusivity is antithetical to free expression.

According to a survey conducted by the Knight Foundation, students themselves are fairly divided as to whether free expression really is more important than inclusivity. Unfortunately, free expression seems to be losing, as another survey says 54% of students report self-censoring in class. An environment where students feel they shouldn’t speak their mind can hardly be called a university. Free expression is far more valuable to an academic institution than some pampered inclusivity.

Unfortunately, it’s not just students self-censoring. Diversity and inclusion often plays an active role in administrative censorship. In 2017, Concordia College rescinded funding to bring conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to campus, stating they should instead be focused on “promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Even rapper Action Bronson was removed from a concert at George Washington University, with the university organizers explaining he was inconsistent with their “values of diversity and inclusion.” 

But what about those who feel transgressed against, unwelcome, and disrespected in the classroom? Of course, everyone should certainly be treated with basic human decency. No one in an American university should be expected to suffer harassment, abuse, or ad hominem attacks. But if you’re upset by someone’s good-faith attempt to express themselves, engage in debate, or present an opposing viewpoint, that’s entirely on you. A person’s sensibilities are no one’s responsibility but their own. We must abandon self-censorship and learn how to self-soothe.

Inclusivity, as it’s pushed by universities, is a poisoned chalice. It’s a kumbaya promise to create an environment where people feel comfortable rather than challenged, but a university that embraces these ideals is doomed to produce soft, unprepared, shallow thinkers. To push beyond the edge of the intellectual frontier requires cowboys—tough, individualistic, survivalists who don’t crumble at every peccadillo. 

“Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”- Hanna Holborn Gray, University of Chicago President, 1978-1993

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