Wait–Diversity Means I Hafta Give Stuff UP???

Woah woah woah. That was so not part of the deal. See, diversity is supposed to benefit everyone, including me, the white dude. Making me sacrifice in order to ‘respect people’s differences’ or whatever is a big fat pareto-no-go, ya feel me?affirmative action

Ah, diversity at Harvard College. It’s a clever recipe, in the abstract. Ingredients: (1) an ample volume of white women; (2) a dozen ethnic groups, divided. Reserving a pinch of each non-white population, add the rest to the white base, stirring only to combine. Don’t worry if a few lumps remain — that’s just the Blacks doing their silly self-segregation thing. Season mixture with a few foreign accents. With the remaining non-white ethnicity, fashion an attractive annual multi-ethnic spectacle for garnish.

Serves over 6,000.

Appetizing enough, right? That is, until some of the spices start demanding shit.

muslim woman exercise surf

By now I’m the last person in the blogosphere to pick up this story, but the latest form of ghastly male oppression on campus is the addition of women’s-only hours to one undergrad gym. The reform primarily benefits Muslim women students who want to dress more comfortably for workouts without men around. I bet it’ll prove a boon for non-Muslim women too, though, promoting some diffusion from the ellipticals to the weight room. My only concern is that the gender binary language erases trans and gender-queer students. Are you allowed in during women’s hours as long as you present as a woman? Who judges that? But hey, worst comes to worst, trans folks can just erg, lift, and shoot hoops during all-genders hours, or head to another hamster wheel on campus.

Others, however, flat-out object to the change. Predictably, our favorite anti-feminist and stalwart defender of male entitlement, Lucy Caldwell, has cried sexism. From CNN:

“I think that it’s incorrect in a college setting to institute a policy in which half of the campus gets wronged or denied a resource that’s supposed to be for everyone,” said student Lucy Caldwell, who also wrote a column in The Harvard Crimson newspaper critical of the new hours.

Now, let’s be clear here. Harvard dorms (apart from first-years’) have their own gyms. We’ve got the recently renovated Malkin Athletic Center, plus grad school facilities. The space in question, the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center (QRAC) is pretty removed from main campus, and it’s the least-used gym. (In the minds of the majority of students, the Quad may as well be Siberia — it’s almost as dreadfully far as that remotest of satellites: my home, the co-op.) The women’s-only times amount to a grand total of 6 hours per week, out of 70. And half the campus is being “wronged?”

Sigh.

What really burns me up is the wrongheaded assumption that, prior to instituting the new rule, the gym’s resources were equally accessible to everyone, and now everything’s all lopsided and, like, unfair. This is the same logic that people use to denigrate hate crime legislation as “special rights.” It’s like insisting on a level playing field when you’ve got a constant 40mph wind behind you, and others have to struggle to make headway. Clearly, the women advocating for this reform were not using gym facilities as freely as their peers. That’s why they piped up. By maintaining universal all-genders facilities, the college privileged a non-Muslim student experience and effectively discouraged Muslim women from taking advantage of exercise resources. The consequences were unintended, obviously, but real nonetheless.

The QRAC case is a great example, I think, of both intersectional identity and institutional discrimination. The students advocated for themselves not as “women” or as “Muslim,” but as Muslim women. The two are mutually constituting and, together, revealed both the particular problem and a solution. And the problem itself stemmed from institutional policy standards that ignored cultural diversity and its gendered manifestations. Hence another reason Caldwell’s complaint rings false: not all men even felt cheated. Few Muslim dudes will whinge about the ‘man ban,’ I’m guessing.

In today’s Crimson, Andrew Fine supports the reform, but chastises university authorities for implementing it without first soliciting broad student input. Fair point: lots of very important decisions get made around here with no student involvement whatsoever, and anti-democratic rule don’t sit too well with me. But I also want to stress that, procedural sketchiness aside, officials made the right move on this one. This is what affirmative-action follow-through looks like.

Debate over affirmative action focuses almost exclusively on the admissions process: rarely do diversity initiatives address the kind of alienation that the ‘diverse’ students experience in environments clearly built for and around elite, white, straight, able-bodied, American men. If we want to change these environments in order to truly respect and celebrate difference, then the people who have been comfiest until now are going to have to forfeit some of their ease. They’ll probably feel inconvenienced. They may need to consider new perspectives. Hey, that’s how it goes when you really make room for others.

Punishing the privileged isn’t the goal here. But as Laura Hadden of Young People For observed about the gym hubbub, while financial aid and outreach are dandy, “it is equally important for [a university] to express its commitment to diversity through accommodating the diverse needs of the student population it already has.”

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4 responses to “Wait–Diversity Means I Hafta Give Stuff UP???

  1. Pingback: Points missed

  2. The Hon. Rufus Peckham

    You are missing the point in your self-zeal to reach a conclusion you like. Enlightened Westerners properly decry the widespread mistreatment of women in the Islamic world. It is, therefore, surprising that Harvard is asking its student population to be respectful of Islamic women’s, frankly, medieval notions about men, especially when such notions deprive students of access to a University resource based solely on their gender.

    Would a fair-minded person sense a double standard here? The question scarcely survives its statement.

    Denying individuals equal access to a University resource based on the gender or race into which they were born cannot be justified by invoking terms such as “balancing interests” or de minimis harm. Harvard is heading down a slippery slope when it seeks to validate ANY gender discrimination under the guise of accommodating one cultural interest or another. And what’s next? Christian groups banning women whose skimpy outfits are near-occasions of sin? Why not? What’s the difference, aside from the outcome? And do YOU really want to reopent the the all-boys’ clubs? Don’t be complicit to this dangerous policy merely because you happen to like the result in this one instance.

    Sigh.

  3. Garrett, after reading your various pieces on the “tribalism” of “identity politics” and the need for “integrability into La Plus Grande universal life,” I think it’ll take me a whole separate post to spell out my serious problems with your claims. The short version: the ‘universality’ you trumpet is bogus in theory and oppressive and imperialist in practice.

    Your Honor, I am an “enlightened Westerner” who happens to believe that women can be both Muslim and empowered — can, in fact, use their faith as a basis around which to organize for progressive change. A crucial aspect of this case it that it was women who sought change on their own behalf — not men who imposed it on them. That’s why it’s different from a hypothetical Christian ban on ‘slutty’ clothing (the type of restriction common, of course, in both Christian and public schools, and cropping up on U.S. airlines, too, these days).

    That’s my take, anyway. And as for reopening the “all-boys’ clubs,” men’s groups aren’t inherently sinister, in my mind. I’m all for organizations that aim to decrease men’s violence and fashion anti-racist, queer-positive, and anti-misogynist masculinities. I think they need to operate in close alliance with women-and-trans-led movements, but sure, men’s groups have a role.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding your point, though: can you give another “slippery slope” example where attending to the needs of an under-recognized group leads to disaster?

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