U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts and Harvard Professor who grew up in Oklahoma, is part Cherokee. Her great, great, great grandmother was Cherokee, making Warren 1/32 Cherokee. She has taken some heat for listing herself as part Cherokee and there is some speculation that her “minority” status helped her gain teaching positions, that she has been the beneficiary of affirmative action programs. I say good for her. Diversity is a good thing. All students who attend colleges and universities with a diverse student population benefit. And is not true that kids from underrepresented ethnic or racial groups could not get in otherwise. In fact, many of the kids might have gotten in if their race were not known on merit alone. In some cases, without affirmative action, they might be passed over, even though they meet all the qualifications.
But diversity should be about more than just skin color, which is superficial – we all look the same under a microscope. I think college and universities need to expand their notion of diversity to include ideological and class diversity. Diversity of thought is important. Ever read those college guides that depict a school as a leftist haven, or a squeaky clean young republican resort? And there’s the school where everybody smokes and the one where everyone drives a SUV with a ski rack and looks straight out of a designer catalog. And the one where all the students hold hands and pray before lunch. Let’s not forget the Birkenstock wearing atheists at the school with no degree requirements. These of
course are caricatures and don’t necessarily reflect the reality at these schools, but perception is important and it’s partly true, especially of smaller liberal arts schools, that the student body is alarmingly homogenous on a number of diversity measures. A kid from a working class background might not even consider the “preppy” school even though it may be a good academic fit. The point is, without diversity, students have a very limiting and narrow experience and will not learn how to interact, work and live with people who are not like them, which I argue has led to partisan gridlock in the U.S.
Elizabeth Warren, a former Oklahoma high school debate champion and noted scholar has brought some ideological diversity to Harvard Law School and draws from her distant roots as a Cherokee and her middle class upbringing. And that’s good for Harvard, good for the state of Massachusetts and the country.