Diversity, often paired with “inclusion,” has been a favored word in academia for a long time. My former institution had a policy stating, “We will recruit and retain faculty who will bring their diverse perspectives, experiences, and expertise into the classroom and broaden the intellectual community. Therefore, the recruitment, retention, and promotion of full-time and adjunct faculty who are themselves diverse are essential functions to this Diversity Plan.”
The full-time faculty at the law school was overwhelmingly white and disproportionately Jewish. I knew of only one colleague who had been raised Catholic, but few regularly attended religious services of any kind. Overwhelmingly this faculty had attended elite law schools. Although many of the graduates would be solo practitioners or practice in small firms, no faculty member had worked in such settings. Almost all the faculty had come from families whose incomes were well above the national median. Their political views were overwhelmingly liberal or further left. All supported LGBTQ rights; none pronounced right-to-life views. One or two may have voted for a Republican, but more likely they supported a libertarian candidate. All the rest supported Democrats. You get the picture.
In short, there were a lot of ways of enhancing diverse perspectives and experiences within the faculty, but diversity did not mean bringing conservatives or Buddhists or those with varying legal backgrounds into the mix. It primarily meant hiring non-whites. One colleague did tell me that he wanted us to hire a black lesbian even though gays and lesbians were well represented on the faculty. I, too, was in favor of hiring non-whites, for I believed that they could add perspectives and experiences to our faculty. But I objected to the term “diversity,” for it had an Alice-in-Wonderland meaning. Throw out the dictionary; it meant only what we meant it to mean. One of the goals of a law school is to produce graduates who think and therefore write clearly, but I wondered how we could do that if this was our written product. I was embarrassed for our use of the term. (What did it mean to have faculty members “who are themselves diverse”?) It led to some strange conversations. I remember, e.g., the discussion of whether the appointment of a Cuban American from an upper-class family who had practiced in a Wall Street firm would add “diversity” to the faculty because we could check the Hispanic box for her.
“Diversity” and “inclusiveness” have now become coded terms for the left just as socialism and cancel culture are for conservatives. I was reminded of this last year when a group in my summer community concerned about racial matters after the George Floyd murder convened. They sought a name and accepted the cliché: The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. The community of 300 residences comprises primarily second homes. To maintain and operate the twenty-seven holes of golf, ten tennis courts, two lawn bowling greens, a restaurant, an Olympic-size pool, and miles of trails on over four thousand acres of forestland, we pay more than $15,000 in annual dues. The overwhelmingly white residents have varying political and religious allegiances and in other ways are diverse as long as we count the spectrum from the well-to-do to the very rich as diverse. To talk and strategize about diversity, equity, and inclusion in this community seems ironic. Case in point: the people who are employed by the community to give us this privileged experience are predominantly white, but they make well below the nationwide median income. If we got back to the true meanings of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, wouldn’t we begin to make plans to pay these people more? We would be concerned about racial justice, but also about income inequality and social mobility. But is this part of the mission of this group? What do we actually mean by diversity, equity, and inclusion? They remain imprecisely defined. Do we want to subsidize low-income people to come into the community? Do we want to recruit nonwhite folks to buy in? Should we encourage Muslims? This is a group of well-meaning individuals, but because of the vagueness of the terminology – its very name — this group is likely to fail in identifying and fulfilling important – as yet undefined — goals.
The left and the right are alike in many ways. They may use different terms, but often to the same effect. I am a believer in free speech, but I sometimes wish that we could ban the use of all meaningless or ill-defined terms that do not enlighten and cannot persuade but are only coded phrases meant to evoke emotional responses from those who already agree with the speaker.