Column: Diversity course requirement a bust

There has been much talk lately — including a three-part series in The Maneater — about the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative and the proposed diversity course requirement that a few loud MU students and faculty are apparently yearning for.

The proposal for a diversity course would require that all undergraduates at MU take a course that falls into a new “diversity” category, much like the writing intensive requirement. This course would ideally expose students to cultural diversity issues in today’s society.

I have a problem with this initiative for several reasons. First, a diversity course requirement would provide students with no tangible life skills. Other required courses such English 1000, a math proficiency course and the writing intensive requirement all provide skills valuable for life beyond college.

Writing and communication skills as well as basic math concepts are essential for any career field. The new requirement would force students to pay for a course in diversity (which is an abstract concept in itself) and provide them with no tangible, necessary skills.

One must also draw into question the effectiveness of such a course. With the cotton ball incident at the Black Culture Center last year, the recent tragedy involving a homosexual student at Rutgers University and the controversy surrounding the proposed mosque in lower Manhattan, many people, myself included, are questioning the progress that society has made thus far in eliminating intolerance and hatred.

While there is certainly still progress to be made toward establishing a more tolerant, peaceful society, it is important to keep in mind that compulsory actions do not equal virtue. Is a man who pays his taxes considered generous? Certainly not: taxes are enacted by force of law. If that same man voluntarily gives his time, talent and treasure to a charity, then he might be considered generous. True virtues such as charity, compassion and tolerance are not achieved by forced actions.

If a student is forced to enroll in and pay for a course addressing “cultural diversity issues,” is that student suddenly considered more tolerant? Certainly not. The course was a requirement for graduation. If the student voluntarily enrolls in such a course out of a genuine desire for academic and personal development, that might be considered a virtuous action.

The same closed minds that scattered cotton balls across the BCC and decry the building of a mosque in a perfectly legal area will not learn tolerance through forceful action. To compel a student with racial or sexual prejudices to take a course in diversity will not make that student any more tolerant, and may in fact only exacerbate the problem.

In such a case, the diversity course will only perpetuate and reinforce the idea of “the other” to the intolerant mind. Only open minds can gain from a diversity course, and to assume that forceful action will change hearts and minds is both naïve and ill-advised.

MU would do well to scrap the diversity course requirement.

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