The Diversity Furies Overrun Another College

Kenyon College, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, is my alma mater (and that of AT editor Thomas Lifson).  Both of us highly valued the educational experience we received there, particularly as political science majors in a department full of outstanding professors who valued teaching over other pursuits.  Many of the faculty in the department were trained by Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago and highly skilled at the Socratic method of class discussion.

All colleges have changed since my time as an undergraduate, but Kenyon for many years retained many of its unique charms – a campus acknowledged as one of the most beautiful in the world, a high level of collegiality among pretty much all members of the campus community, an ethos that would not allow disruptions of speakers or threats to outside speakers, and a tolerance of people who might think differently about something.  The intangible aspects of those charms seem to have disappeared in the last year.

Recent graduate Adam Rubenstein described for the Weekly Standard the brouhaha created when a liberal drama professor sent out an advance copy of her new play about illegal aliens working on a farm, planned for a premiere on campus.  The professor was soon blasted by the "Latinx" community and others in solidarity with this "marginalized" group.  One might have thought the professor had committed war crimes, given the ugliness of the response, but after all, how dare a white woman try to write about a minority community?  The author withdrew the play, and it was never performed on campus.

With a new campaign underway to raise $300 million for the college, Kenyon needed to prevent the news of what had happened from getting out to alumni in an unfiltered fashion, potentially doing damage to the college's reputation.  The college's Alumni Bulletin decided to address issues raised by the play in a summer issue with essays by faculty, students, and alumni.  I was asked to be one of the writers, and as it turned out, I was the only one of the eight authors who seemed uncomfortable with the new obsession at the college, thoroughly endorsed by the administration in the name of "diversity, equity, and inclusion" (or, in reality, identity politics and white privilege).  The essays were reviewed and edited by the Alumni Bulletin's staff.  At least mine was significantly edited and shortened.  The essays can be read here (mine was the seventh of the eight in the link).

Below is what I originally submitted.  The original version was tougher, and more direct, perhaps too much so for publication.

"Privilege, Relativity and Narratives"

A prevailing narrative that seems to have taken hold at Kenyon and many other colleges and universities is that there are two classes of students- the privileged, and the non-privileged. The privileged include white students, or at least white straight students, or at least white straight male students. White female students or whites who identify as LGBTQ of either sex or more than one, have less privilege than white straight male students but more than blacks, Hispanics, native Americans, or certain Asians.

The obsession with privilege, and who has to deal with it or check it, and with identity politics more broadly, is a smokescreen for what is really going on- a desire for greater power and influence on campus by certain groups. In other words, it does not reflect any real assessment of actual privilege or advantage, nor any structural racism that is alleged to exist.

This prevailing narrative can have a toxic (limiting) effect on free speech on campus. The loudest , and most aggressive voices on campus often come from groups alleging their victimization, and marginalization. Those less absorbed with politics, whatever their race or ethnicity, will often choose not to challenge that narrative, which is often delivered with passion and anger. Many students avoid putting themselves in positions where they can be called out as racist or bigoted for challenging the narrative, so they remain silent. This is especially true on a small campus like Kenyon, where students who have been accused or shamed can not easily hide from public view.

I would argue that every student who attends Kenyon is privileged. Unlike most students' high school classmates, a Kenyon student gets to spend four years on one of the world's most beautiful campuses. Classes are generally small and a first rate faculty are devoted to teaching rather than publishing. The facilities are by and large state of the art, and constantly being upgraded. Opportunities to study abroad, or do research during summers abounds. There are dozens of campus organizations to suit any interest, and many sports teams for both men and women. If one completes a Kenyon degree, there are excellent opportunities to continue one's education at graduate school or professional school or to jump directly into the work force. The Kenyon name is respected, since the school is highly regarded for its academic program and alumni have distinguished themselves in many fields. If one is a member of a minority group, there are far more resources available than ever existed at any prior point in the college's history. The student body, its faculty, and its administrative staff, are far more diverse than ever before. One need not be alone on campus whatever one's background.

And finally one more point on why Kenyon students are all privileged. Someone else is paying the enormous cost of a Kenyon education, now somewhere between $65,000 and $70,000 a year. This could be the families of students, the college, the government through grants and loans, or some combination of the above. The quaint notion that someone is working their way through college, does not apply to Kenyon students. For sure, some students hold campus jobs which contributes to paying the total tab, and many have summer jobs. But in any case, the overwhelming share of the cost of the years at Kenyon is borne by others.

Naturally, the financial circumstances of individual students, and their backgrounds are not identical, and in many cases very different. I was a first generation in my family to graduate college, and attended Kenyon because of the generosity of the college- a full scholarship and loan offer. It is one of the reasons why I have contributed to the school every year since I graduated. I came to Kenyon from an elite high school in New York City, where well over 90% of the student body was Jewish. Kenyon had no campus programs whatsoever for Jewish students. I met students who had never met Jews before, and some had some "odd" views about Jews. The chaplain, Donald Rogan, was helpful, and arranged for rides to Columbus for the high holidays, and matzoh on Passover . Now Jewish students at Kenyon have many more services available to accommodate their needs, though they also get to stare at "apartheid walls" on their way into the dining hall or on their way to classes on Passover, courtesy of an Israel hating student group.

Privilege is not absolute, nor is it determined solely by skin color. It is relative, and individual. There are some black or Hispanic students who have had more advantaged backgrounds than some white students at Kenyon. The rank ordering of privilege that is dictated by the hierarchy of alleged victim groups is false, in addition to being destructive. It is destructive because it turns a college that was always collegial, a unique strength of the school throughout its history, into one of warring camps and tribes. Collect a group of tribes through "intersectionality" and defeat the power structure that is viewed as dominant on campus- whites , and in particular, white males. . White students are told they should feel guilty and therefore need therapy of one kind or another to deal with their whiteness or privilege, and their presumptive bigotry- whether overt or "implicit". The truth of the matter is that whites are not automatically bigots, no more than members of any other ethnic or racial group can be presumed to be bigoted. Bigots can be found in all groups.

Kenyon has always respected students' individuality, and students were judged for their behavior, their character, and their accomplishments . Does the current collection of students think that judging people only as members of groups-and assuming as a result that each student is a privileged bigot, or a victim, is a better way?

Kenyon College, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, is my alma mater (and that of AT editor Thomas Lifson).  Both of us highly valued the educational experience we received there, particularly as political science majors in a department full of outstanding professors who valued teaching over other pursuits.  Many of the faculty in the department were trained by Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago and highly skilled at the Socratic method of class discussion.

All colleges have changed since my time as an undergraduate, but Kenyon for many years retained many of its unique charms – a campus acknowledged as one of the most beautiful in the world, a high level of collegiality among pretty much all members of the campus community, an ethos that would not allow disruptions of speakers or threats to outside speakers, and a tolerance of people who might think differently about something.  The intangible aspects of those charms seem to have disappeared in the last year.

Recent graduate Adam Rubenstein described for the Weekly Standard the brouhaha created when a liberal drama professor sent out an advance copy of her new play about illegal aliens working on a farm, planned for a premiere on campus.  The professor was soon blasted by the "Latinx" community and others in solidarity with this "marginalized" group.  One might have thought the professor had committed war crimes, given the ugliness of the response, but after all, how dare a white woman try to write about a minority community?  The author withdrew the play, and it was never performed on campus.

With a new campaign underway to raise $300 million for the college, Kenyon needed to prevent the news of what had happened from getting out to alumni in an unfiltered fashion, potentially doing damage to the college's reputation.  The college's Alumni Bulletin decided to address issues raised by the play in a summer issue with essays by faculty, students, and alumni.  I was asked to be one of the writers, and as it turned out, I was the only one of the eight authors who seemed uncomfortable with the new obsession at the college, thoroughly endorsed by the administration in the name of "diversity, equity, and inclusion" (or, in reality, identity politics and white privilege).  The essays were reviewed and edited by the Alumni Bulletin's staff.  At least mine was significantly edited and shortened.  The essays can be read here (mine was the seventh of the eight in the link).

Below is what I originally submitted.  The original version was tougher, and more direct, perhaps too much so for publication.

"Privilege, Relativity and Narratives"

A prevailing narrative that seems to have taken hold at Kenyon and many other colleges and universities is that there are two classes of students- the privileged, and the non-privileged. The privileged include white students, or at least white straight students, or at least white straight male students. White female students or whites who identify as LGBTQ of either sex or more than one, have less privilege than white straight male students but more than blacks, Hispanics, native Americans, or certain Asians.

The obsession with privilege, and who has to deal with it or check it, and with identity politics more broadly, is a smokescreen for what is really going on- a desire for greater power and influence on campus by certain groups. In other words, it does not reflect any real assessment of actual privilege or advantage, nor any structural racism that is alleged to exist.

This prevailing narrative can have a toxic (limiting) effect on free speech on campus. The loudest , and most aggressive voices on campus often come from groups alleging their victimization, and marginalization. Those less absorbed with politics, whatever their race or ethnicity, will often choose not to challenge that narrative, which is often delivered with passion and anger. Many students avoid putting themselves in positions where they can be called out as racist or bigoted for challenging the narrative, so they remain silent. This is especially true on a small campus like Kenyon, where students who have been accused or shamed can not easily hide from public view.

I would argue that every student who attends Kenyon is privileged. Unlike most students' high school classmates, a Kenyon student gets to spend four years on one of the world's most beautiful campuses. Classes are generally small and a first rate faculty are devoted to teaching rather than publishing. The facilities are by and large state of the art, and constantly being upgraded. Opportunities to study abroad, or do research during summers abounds. There are dozens of campus organizations to suit any interest, and many sports teams for both men and women. If one completes a Kenyon degree, there are excellent opportunities to continue one's education at graduate school or professional school or to jump directly into the work force. The Kenyon name is respected, since the school is highly regarded for its academic program and alumni have distinguished themselves in many fields. If one is a member of a minority group, there are far more resources available than ever existed at any prior point in the college's history. The student body, its faculty, and its administrative staff, are far more diverse than ever before. One need not be alone on campus whatever one's background.

And finally one more point on why Kenyon students are all privileged. Someone else is paying the enormous cost of a Kenyon education, now somewhere between $65,000 and $70,000 a year. This could be the families of students, the college, the government through grants and loans, or some combination of the above. The quaint notion that someone is working their way through college, does not apply to Kenyon students. For sure, some students hold campus jobs which contributes to paying the total tab, and many have summer jobs. But in any case, the overwhelming share of the cost of the years at Kenyon is borne by others.

Naturally, the financial circumstances of individual students, and their backgrounds are not identical, and in many cases very different. I was a first generation in my family to graduate college, and attended Kenyon because of the generosity of the college- a full scholarship and loan offer. It is one of the reasons why I have contributed to the school every year since I graduated. I came to Kenyon from an elite high school in New York City, where well over 90% of the student body was Jewish. Kenyon had no campus programs whatsoever for Jewish students. I met students who had never met Jews before, and some had some "odd" views about Jews. The chaplain, Donald Rogan, was helpful, and arranged for rides to Columbus for the high holidays, and matzoh on Passover . Now Jewish students at Kenyon have many more services available to accommodate their needs, though they also get to stare at "apartheid walls" on their way into the dining hall or on their way to classes on Passover, courtesy of an Israel hating student group.

Privilege is not absolute, nor is it determined solely by skin color. It is relative, and individual. There are some black or Hispanic students who have had more advantaged backgrounds than some white students at Kenyon. The rank ordering of privilege that is dictated by the hierarchy of alleged victim groups is false, in addition to being destructive. It is destructive because it turns a college that was always collegial, a unique strength of the school throughout its history, into one of warring camps and tribes. Collect a group of tribes through "intersectionality" and defeat the power structure that is viewed as dominant on campus- whites , and in particular, white males. . White students are told they should feel guilty and therefore need therapy of one kind or another to deal with their whiteness or privilege, and their presumptive bigotry- whether overt or "implicit". The truth of the matter is that whites are not automatically bigots, no more than members of any other ethnic or racial group can be presumed to be bigoted. Bigots can be found in all groups.

Kenyon has always respected students' individuality, and students were judged for their behavior, their character, and their accomplishments . Does the current collection of students think that judging people only as members of groups-and assuming as a result that each student is a privileged bigot, or a victim, is a better way?