Indoctrination: The Real Goal of the Culture and Diversity Petition
By Paul Lagarde '16 In order to graduate from Washington and Lee, each student must take a certain amount of classes outside of his or her major to satisfy the core curriculum, known as the Foundation and Distribution Requirement. Exposing students to a broad array of academic disciplines, FDRs, as they are called, ensure that no one may graduate from W&L without receiving a well-rounded education. Students might fulfill the math requirement with introductory calculus, the lab science requirement with a geology course, or the language requirement with four semesters of German. In keeping with the goal of a true liberal arts education, students have broad freedom to decide which courses they will take to fulfill the various requirements, allowing them to explore subject areas truly of interest to them.
Recently, two female members of the Class of 2017 began circulating a petition among the student body calling for the institution of a new requirement, one focused on “Culture and Diversity.” The petition, they state, “is motivated by a concern for the overall appreciation of diversity within our student body.” They write, “We have witnessed the intelligence and thoughtfulness of our fellow students, but we have also observed a lack of awareness of diverse perspectives. That is to say, though there are numerous available courses about diversity--including issues of gender, sexual orientation, religion, and race--a number of students opt out of those courses.”
In the quote above, which constitutes the only argument these two students offer as to why W&L has a diversity appreciation problem, the petitioners essentially argue that because some students opt not to take classes with a focus on marginalized groups, that means, therefore, that these poor, unenlightened souls necessarily lack a proper appreciation for diversity, which of course, can only be cured, in the writers’ minds, with a few university classes on the subject. This is a nonsensical argument, as it rests on the faulty assumption that one can only gain an appreciation for diversity by taking certain classes in a university setting. Under this logic, no one without a college degree has a proper awareness for diverse perspectives because they have not worshipped at the altar of the Women and Gender Studies Department. Had these two students offered concrete examples of a lack of diverse perspectives as the core of their argument, then they might have a stronger case for instituting a new FDR requirement as a solution to this problem. Instead, as the Left is so often inclined to do, they assume the existence of a problem, and offer more programs and regulations to “fix it.”
But let’s assume that despite their faulty logic and despite the apparent lack of evidence in support of their conclusion, our two young activists are correct that W&L students lack an awareness for diverse perspectives. Is it then the University’s job to step in and correct this “problem” through a new course requirement? Furthermore, what kind of constraints might such a requirement impose on a university that has already decided to place a freeze on hiring additional professors for the foreseeable future?
In their petition, the students call the institution of their requirement a “symbolic gesture to our campus’s values.” Such an assertion could not be further from the truth. A true liberal arts education is one that allows students some choice in what they study, and indeed, we know this from the Latin root liber, which means “free.” By allowing students to explore their true interests and passions, a liberal arts education frees the mind to discover for itself what is true and what is right.
The advocates of the Culture and Diversity FDR clearly subscribe to a philosophy of cultural relativism--they believe that all cultures are equal in terms of academic merit, and thus, equally worthy of being studied. They state that their Culture and Diversity FDR will not be an additional requirement, but rather, one that students may fulfill simultaneously alongside another FDR, such as the Literature or Humanities requirement. Such an arrangement is, in this writer’s opinion, even more dangerous than having a standalone C&D requirement. Under the proposal, a pre-med student with a heavy course load might take “The Philosophy of Sex” in order to satisfy both the humanities and C&D requirement, when perhaps he might rather take a truly significant philosophy class such as “Plato” or “Nietzsche.” A double-major in Business Administration and Economics might have to take “Gay and Lesbian Life in 20th-Century United States,” regretfully passing up opportunities to study events of true historical importance, such as the French Revolution or the reign of Peter the Great.
This funneling of unwilling students into classes fitting the latest politically correct trend is of course the goal of the campus Leftists and furthermore, it is necessary to the survival of their cause. The two students admit as much in their petition, writing, “Many of the departments that currently offer such courses lack a physical presence on campus or are not categorized into a department on the Registrar’s website, a problem currently experienced by the Women’s and Gender Studies program. Requiring their courses as FDR’s would increase dwindling class sizes, attract potential majors and minors, and give much-needed visibility to interdisciplinary studies courses that are often overlooked.” Though the student body at Washington and Lee has become more liberal over the years, it remains, on the whole, fairly conservative. The admission that Women and Gender Studies classes remain relatively small in size is a testament to the fact that, shocking though it may be to our progressive friends, W&L students might just prefer to take classes where the liberal ideology isn’t shoved down their throats. In the absence of generating actual interest in their program, requiring students to take classes in the Women and Gender Studies Department would, of course, ensure its survival, and this petition reflects a somewhat pathetic attempt to do just that.
Were the Culture and Diversity FDR to be approved, it would likely result in academic departments cutting traditional courses in order to accommodate the sudden spike in demand for courses featuring “diverse perspectives,” absent any change in the Board’s current policy freezing the hiring of additional faculty members. For every Shakespeare class cut, we might see an additional course titled something like “Transgenderism in Modern Media: How Orange is the New Black and Transparent Shaped a Genre.” We might cut the American Revolution to discuss the social status of midwives in ancient Greece, or Lincoln to ponder homosexuality’s role in 17th-century colonial life. The change might be gradual, but over time, Washington and Lee’s curriculum would come to reflect a shift from the study of truth to the study of the inconsequential.
I do not doubt that the concerned student authors mean well with their petition, but I fear that they are being unduly influenced by the forces of liberal academia. Harmless though this proposal might seem, it would surely set the stage for a gradual descent into politically correct academic tyranny. If Washington and Lee wants to offer courses featuring diversity, then by all means, offer them. But do not force students to take them--we have far, far better things to study.