Many outside observers, particularly conservatives, have scoffed at claims by campus protesters that minority students face pervasive discrimination on campus. After all, aren’t racism and prejudice at all-time lows, and aren’t college campuses the most tolerant and inclusive places in the world? In a recent essay for Defining Ideas, the publication of the Hoover Institution, James Huffman turns this narrative on its head, writing that many colleges’ ostensible embrace of diversity—their affirmative action programs, their multicultural housing, their ethnic studies major programs—actually amount to a type of discrimination, and a reason many minority students feel they are being treated differently from their peers:
Can there be any surprise that students of color feel as if they are treated differently from white students when their admission to the university is very likely to have been influenced by their race? When they, and only they, are often invited to campus a week early, purportedly to bond with their fellow students of color and to give them a head start on college? When one of their first experiences on campus is some sort of gathering with other students of color? When they are directed to the campus office of diversity or minority affairs as a place for counseling? When they are invited to join the Black or Hispanic or Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian student union? When they learn they can major in Black, etc. studies? […]
There is nothing subtle about the most pervasive form of racial discrimination prevailing at most American colleges and universities today. It is done in the name of lifting up those who have been discriminated against in the past. But there should be little wonder that the intended beneficiaries of this allegedly benign discrimination feel themselves isolated and treated differently. By design, universities have isolated them and treated them differently.
Huffman’s essay offers an original and well-reasoned perspective on the campus unrest; read the whole thing. One perverse aspect of the situation that Huffman doesn’t touch on is the way that racial isolation on campus creates a vicious cycle. Students protest that they are being treated differently, and administrators respond by creating more segregated facilities and more race-based programs, s response which in turn heightens the sense of isolation.
The leftwing identity politics approach to combating racial prejudice—diversity training and multicultural centers—has not worked. If anything, it has made the situation worse. College administrators that are actually interested in making all students feel integrated into the campus community should look to evidence-based approaches, like fostering a sense of common identity among all students, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.