Colleges Are Rejecting Our Common Humanity and the Science That Reveals It

Academics often point out that diversity is good, in part, because it brings different perspectives and experiences to the table. I agree. In fact, this is one reason many argue that higher education needs to also promote viewpoint diversity. Diversity based on identities such as race does not necessarily reflect a deeper diversity of life experiences and personal beliefs.

This might come as a surprise to those trained to mindlessly repeat “white privilege,” but white people often have very diverse life histories and economic backgrounds. Tragedy and triumph are not bound to race, gender, or any other group identity.

That being said, I would like to focus on a different and often neglected benefit of all forms of diversity, including viewpoint diversity. Diversity doesn’t just showcase the many ways people are different. It also reveals our similarities. Diversity connects people across different groups by demonstrating a common humanity.

I was born and spent the early years of my life in West Africa. Most of the kids I played with were Africans. Guess what? It didn’t matter. Kids are kids. Children all over the world have an equal capacity for imagination and the same intrinsic desire to play, explore, and bond with others.

When my own children were in their early years of primary school, I was a professor in England. My children attended a school near the university that was extremely culturally diverse. English was not the native language of many of the students. Mine were the only Americans at the school and most of their friends were other international students from countries such as Pakistan, India, and China.

Though they certainly learned about a number of cultural differences, as did my wife and I, a crucial lesson they received was that people from all over the world have a lot in common.

This is not to say that all cultural beliefs and practices are equal. They are certainly not. And I believe we should always defend the Western enlightenment values that have demonstrably made the world more egalitarian. The point is that people who on the surface appear very different from us actually have many underlying similarities. Indeed, psychologists have established that basic psychological needs as well as the structure of emotion and personality are universal.

However, humans are tribal by nature and decades of research demonstrates that with little prompting, people tend to exhibit favoritism to those who seem similar to them in some way, a phenomenon known as ingroup bias. The ingroup can be based on almost any identity marker, even a relatively trivial one. Even worse, ingroup bias can turn into outgroup hostility and intergroup conflict when different groups are competing for the same resources or at least believe that they are in a zero-sum contest.

Thus, it’s imperative that in our modern diverse and globally-interconnected societies we advocate for the inherent humanity in all, to understand that at our core, most of us have the same goals to be self-determined, part of a social fabric of family and friends, and pursue lives of enduring meaning.

When we view people as part of a common humanity we are better able to treat them as individuals, not just members of different groups. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely stated, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Sadly, many college professors, administrators, and activists are promoting a very different view, one that is at odds with decades of scientific research.

Instead of using diversity to promote a common humanity, they are using it to make students perpetually conscious of group membership. This increases the likelihood of ingroup bias. They are creating spaces, including residence halls, that are segregated by race or designated for the exclusive use of one particular group. This promotes distrust of and hostility toward members of different groups.

College administrators are regulating free speech and creating bias reporting systems that encourage students to look for offense and be suspicious of their peers. This discourages and even penalizes candid discussion and natural learning about how to navigate a diverse world. And by encouraging members of certain groups to feel like victims, they increase feelings of entitlement and reduce willingness to help others.

This obsession with identity politics also triggers competitive victimhood, a phenomenon in which members of one group respond to accusations of victimizing other groups by thinking about ways in which their own group has been unfairly treated. Schools are teaching students to judge ideas not on substance, but on the group identity of the person who generated the idea. This reduces students’ ability to engage in the type of rational discourse that helps them find common ground.

Colleges are ignorant of or simply ignoring decades of research on social cognition, psychological motives, and intergroup relations. It is as if they are fashioning social justice campaigns and policies in direct contradiction to what empirical research would advise.

Instead of using proven strategies and empirical research to help students succeed, colleges are allowing far-left activist professors and administrators to use diversity campaigns to push political agendas. The social sciences and humanities in particular are increasingly dominated by academics whose scholarly theories and research are based more on leftist ideology than empirical data and objective reality.

And it is often the most dogmatic leftist faculty and administrators who aggressively promote the identity politics that ironically increase conflict between members of different groups. The prioritization of political goals over education badly serves the students they are charged with educating. Economically disadvantaged students are likely to be the most harmed by group divisiveness since they are most in need of cooperation.

There are many disciplined and thoughtful faculty who keep their personal views from biasing their teaching and scholarly work. However, few are willing to speak out against their ideologically-driven colleagues out of fear of being socially ostracized, publically shamed, or even professionally punished. This is why it is critical that colleges and universities maintain a commitment to free speech and begin to embrace the value of viewpoint diversity. Curiously, diversity of thought is the one type of diversity many colleges have little interest in promoting.

However, viewpoint diversity can also reveal a common humanity. Many academics might not value different points of view because they do not socialize with or perhaps even know any conservatives or non-leftists, which makes it hard for them to appreciate their humanity and intellectual contributions. The liberal academic bubble is very real.

Again, let me emphasize that there is great value to championing diversity. Group identities, especially the identities that influence our beliefs, are often part of our personal identities. Thus, differences between groups can be informative and worthy of consideration.

Nevertheless, we often neglect the fact that diversity also reveals a common humanity. It teaches us that most members of different groups have the same human flaws and strengths, the same fears and hopes. Only when we understand that are we truly able to treat people as individuals who should be judged by the content of their character.

  • Lou Sander

    Nice work. Often overlooked is the strength in unity. Diversity is the opposite, with the same root as divide, division, etc. Best is probably unity in diversity, or diverse people, unified for the common good. What we have is diversity, unified to inhibit/destroy unity.

    • George Leef

      Quite right, Skip. The big statist project of “progressivism” depends on incessant causes that supposedly show the need for more control from the top. Fomenting division is one of their favorite tactics.

      • DrOfnothing

        If this is a “progressive” goal, how come the creation of the HSA, arguably the greatest expansion of government authority since the Roosevelt era, was the policy of a Republican president? How come our current POTUS, who is distinctly “unprogressive,” is advocating the massive engagement of government control at a number of levels (e.g. immigration) even if he is trying to reduce it in others (e.g. environmental protections)? As usual, you are ignoring facts in favor of ideology.

  • Baron Von Claptrap

    “Colleges are ignorant of or simply ignoring decades of research on social cognition, psychological motives, and intergroup relations.”

    This sentence really hits home with me.For a while I’ve entertained the idea that the progressive left are annoyed at us for actually accepting multi culturalism.It’s like they wanted it to fail so it they could point the finger.Why promote something,and complain of “cultural appropriation” when we all take part.It makes no sense.

    Good article.

  • Rob Jenkins

    This piece articulates many of the thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain but which I have been unable to articulate. Thank you. Well done.

  • Joke asda
    • hub 312

      “Diversity of experience is different than diversity of viewpoint…”

      And diversity of viewpoint (a/k/a freedom of expression) is the only thing that is essential to the functioning of an institution of higher learning. Diversity of experience may be correlated with diversity of viewpoint, but if only one viewpoint is deemed to be politically correct and all other viewpoints deemed “hate” (i.e., speech prohibited by leftists), than that counts for little.

      “may have similar viewpoints, especially if from the “Western” country.

      The “Western” viewpoint is the origin of all the competing ideologies in the world today, including liberalism, socialism, feminism, critical race theory, and “post-colonialism.”

      “Many triumphs and tragedies are bound to race….”

      They are bound to collectivism, the idea that individual character and interests is determined by group membership (race, religion, ethnicity, class, tribe) and that conflict between groups is inevitable and desirable is a collectivist notion and is the fundamental principle of progressivism (“race, gender, class”). But the injuries were done by individuals acting in the name of group grievances (i.e., “social” justice) to other individuals.

      “rightists are the ones drumming….”

      Er, I think that’s projection bias on your part. American conservativism is the only remaining viewpoint that has held out against the collectivist idea of group “rights” and the identity politics/divide-and-conquer, race/class/gender world of permanent conflict and struggle ideology of the left.

      “Yes, but this is in response to events that occurred.”

      That’s intended as a justification? Racial (or other) segregation (including self-segregation) is the denial of the individualist principles of the American founding and a breeding ground for hostility, mistrust and group-think. The kind of mind-set that resorts to delegitimization, dehumanization and violence when confronted with facts and truths that do not conform to group-think or previous indoctrination (e.g., the recent violence and riots in Claremont against allowing Heather MacDonald to present a paper at a conference and at Middlebury against allowing Charles Murray to speak). The underlying reasons are illegitimate. The effect is to label everything that does not conform to progressive indoctrination as “hate.”

      “There is strength in numbers….”

      Yes, as proven by the effectiveness of mob violence and the suppression of free speech by intolerant majorities.

      “…in-group bias….”

      Which leads people like you to label any speech you disagree with as “hate” and imagine that that bias gives you and those who share your viewpoint the right to suppress any speech, violently if necessary, with which you disagree.

      “…and business and economics departments….”

      False. I think you’ll find that economics departments are dominated by academics who think that the tools of modern economic analysis, like other fields that employ the scientific method and that have withstood the test of time (and evolved with increased knowledge), actually have real world implications that leftists don’t like.

      “What should be promoted is debate to get to the truth….”

      And how do the leftist enablers (like you), promoters and participants in anti-free speech riots and violence determine what is the truth for the rest of us?

      “Having a person just come and speak to like minded people who share wrong viewpoints is not only pointless, but dangerous.”

      I’m assuming this is an exercise in self-parody. This is exactly the totalitarian status-quo that you and the campus anti-free speech movement is trying to preserve.

      “So is the conservation bubble.”

      I’m not sure what the “conservation” bubble is, but if there are enough conservative academics at a university to create a “bubble” that impervious to progressive criticism, thought and speech, I’d like to know where that is.

      “Agreed.”

      Wrong. It is precisely why we cannot dismiss people by labeling them as oppressors or recipients of unearned “privilege” based simply upon the color of their skin, their “experiences,” their “gender,” their “class,” or their country of origin. People are morally responsible for their own actions (and in-actions where there is a moral duty to act). Every member of the university community, from students to professors to administrators, has a moral duty to protect and defend free speech and expression on college campuses, even if they find the facts and arguments presented to be as repugnant as at least half this country finds progressivism.

      • joke asd

        I find it ironic that you accuse liberals of denying/stifling free speech, yet your own response is so emotionally charged and accusing. How are you promoting debate by labeling me as leftist that is trying to ruin your world?
        Your response is just more evidence that this is a human problem, not leftist and that the people are on the right are just as much as fault.

        • hub 312

          Your irony meter is broken. If you want to complain about the tone of public discourse in America today, I’d suggest you check out the beam in your eye.

          I simply took the time and trouble, since you did, to point out that a conservative does not find your Fisking exercise informative or persuasive.

          Now, if your point is that emotional or accusatory speech is a denial of free speech, then you’re too far down the leftist Orwellian rabbit-hole for me or anyone else to be able to help you.

          • does it matter

            What you did, is cry me a river and lost any hope of me taking you seriously. If you are trying to convince anyone that you are logically minded, you should really tone down the name calling. You act just all the leftist scum you accuse me of being.

          • hub 312

            I think you have highlighted why some people have resorted to the term “snowflake” when describing liberals in the public sphere. And for your information, I don’t expect my comments to de-program brainwashed liberals–only life experience can do that. But I do expect others who are more open minded to read my comments as well.

            Sure, go ahead, call us racists, sexists, transphobes, homophobes, Islamophobes, xenophobes, planet-destroyers and bigots, ban us from college campuses, violently attack peaceful speech, but we mustn’t dare call you what you are–intolerant, self-righteous, illiberal, smug totalitarian wannabees, or the “useful idiots” thereof.

          • liberal scumbag

            You must be doing some good drugs because you keep saying things I never mentioned. If you are not doing drugs, I recommend you find a doctor and definitely ask for some; because you are showing signs of the “snowflake” symptoms you keep attributing to me.

            So it is true, rightist are more emotional than dems: http://observer.com/2017/04/yes-republicans-are-more-emotional-than-democrats/

            I also enjoyed how you called yourself all those things that i never accused you of being, which must mean that you do identify with them. And to be clear, this is not the public sphere, this is a troll war at this point.

            Though I really appreciate your encouragement and realize that I should continue on with my destruction of the free world. Please stay tuned to have all your guns and trucks taken away and distributed to the gay-socialist unicorns named Marx.

          • hub 312

            What I did notice is that in typical liberal fashion you don’t address a single point I raised, but instead went directly into ad hominem attack. This has become almost a liberal template in public discourse. My comments on your comments point by point all raised significant philosophical and factual arguments against your premises and conclusions, whereas your comments focus only on who you imagine me to be.

            Your latest post is a classic example of how supposedly pro-science liberals misuse science. The authors of this very modest study looked only at presidential inaugural addresses from 1949 to the present. It also has some pretty positive things to say about the use of emotion. It is, indeed, inescapable. Therefore, your claim that “righist are more emotional than dems” is what we in the vernacular call a lie, or, at the very least, an assertion made without a shred of evidence or in reckless disregard of the truth. But what perhaps the most dishonest tactic is your attack on expressing displaying emotion. Really? A liberal attacks displaying emotion in public discourse? Again, how about that beam in your eye?

  • Rod McLaughlin

    Of course, Clay Routledge is right. But surely the current academic atmosphere is not a mistake, which can be corrected by reasoned articles such as this. Academia has been poisoned by the enemies of reason.

  • “Privilege” does not exist ex nihilo. It had to start somewhere with some people. I have no problem with others admitting to the world that my ancestors were more apt, more intelligent, more able, more sophisticated, and much more likely to come out on the winning side of any conflict with their ancestors. If they want to take it back 50 years, 500 years or 5,000 years I am up for that. The better team apparently won the game and took home the trophy. The 2nd place team took home — well — 2nd place.

    If they say the game was rigged, then my ancestors were smarter than theirs and figured out how to rig the game and theirs didn’t. If they say my ancestors were more savage than theirs then that means theirs were more weak than mine. If they say there were more of mine, then that means that mine were simply better at understanding how to use the environment to sustain a greater population. If they say my ancestors had bigger, badder, and more destructive weapons that means than their ancestors were probably stuck in a stone-age existence for 10,000 years past their time.

    No matter how you slice it… they are making the claim for me that their ancestors could not quite hack it when it came to competition for the “privilege” of being on top. They were weaker, ineffective, and overall a fine example of Darwinism in action. If they want to complain they should be talking to ~their~ grandparents and asking why they and their ancestors sucked so bad in the game of life.

    Now understand that ~this~ is how ~they~ see the world. This is what ~they~ are admitting happened. Unless, of course, they want to somehow claim that “privilege” just happened along one day from out of nowhere and someone picked it up off the ground and has been using it ever since. Should be an interesting and amusing read.

    • Lee Jussim

      Much of the point of the U.S. Constitution is to protect the people from being stepped on by those with more wealth or power:

      Amendment 1: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

      Amendment 9: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

      Amendment 10: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

      Amendment 14: No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

      Amendment 15: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

      • No, actually it is to constrain the power of the government — not those with wealth or power. Other laws can do that. Please study up on your civics lessons and then we’ll get back to the subject.

        • Lee Jussim

          The idea that somehow the “govt” is not “those with power” is one of the weirdest claims I have ever seen.

          Do you believe the world is run by secret conspiracies? And while we are on the topic of constraining power: Putin, Sisi, Chavez, Erdogan, Trump — these are NOT people with power?

          Historical context for the Constitution: King George, Julius Caesar, Louis XVI, Ghengis Khan — these people too lacked power?

          Civics lesson indeed…

          • “secret conspiracies”?

            Sorry, but you must have me confused with another poster since I never posted, hinted, or implied a word about “secret conspiracies.” If you keep looking around you might find the post you meant to reply to.

            Odd how ALL the people you listed were part of a government or rulership, eh. If you want to restrain the power of these kinds of people then you restrain the power of the government or rulership. Which is exactly what the Constitution did. It never spoke to the “power” of individuals… it spoke to the power and limits of government.

            And the Carnegies, the Rockefellers, the Hunts, the Kennedys, the Morgans, the Melons, the Kochs, the Gettys, and the many other multi-millionaire barons of industry and society… explain to us — specifically and with detail — just how those amendments applied to PRIVATE citizens with “wealth and power.”

          • Lee Jussim

            Your refusal to acknowledge the rule of government in creating the oppression and systematic inequality that you so proudly embrace (for the “winners”) is bizarre. Slavery, ghettos, reservations, genocide, Jim Crow, apartheid, voting rights restrictions, law enforcement double standards (it was essentially “legal” for whites to kill black people throughout much of the American South through the 1960s).

            Many modern group inequalities did not mostly emerge from a system of fair competition, unaffected by govt. But surely you are right this much — not all inequalities necessarily reflect oppression. But even then, nor do they necessarily reflect any inherent superiority of the winners. More often than not, much of what they reflect is the luck of the society into which one was born, and accidents of birth.

            Remove all that — “legal” forms of govt oppression, accidents of history, geography and society — and there still would not be perfect equality. And I am not saying there should be. But your argument that wealth and power reflects the “superiority” (you wrote: “my ancestors were smarter than theirs and figured out how to rig the game and theirs didn’t. If they say my ancestors were more savage than theirs then that means theirs were more weak than mine”) of the “winners” is beyond wildly overstated.

            And savagery? Really? Are you really in the business of endorsing savagery?

          • “Are you really in the business of endorsing savagery?”

            Lee is the type of poster who would believe that someone who posted, “Slavery was legal in 17th century America” was actually “endorsing” slavery.

            “proudly embrace”

            Bless your heart, Lee. I stated that it was YOU and YOUR TYPE who believed in that kind of thinking. Unless you want to claim that privilege came from nowhere until someone picked it up off the ground. Go ahead and make the argument.

            “luck of the society”

            Care to explain just why ~that~ society was “lucky” and not another one? Did they also just pick the “luck” up off the ground when no one else was noticing it?

            “that wealth and power reflects the “superiority””

            You’re right and I am wrong. Wealth and power apparently makes one inferior to the rest of society. And that’s why you think the Constitution was written, to control the inferior of society.

          • Hillary-Liscious

            Hmm, you didn’t address all of his straw men so he came back with more.

    • Gitte

      Best response to the question of “privilege” I have ever read. Clearly privilege isn’t a gift, it is an earned reward.

  • fanofvansquigs

    I’m very familiar with the relevant research, and this article is absolutely correct. I’ve had a number of the same thoughts lately. It almost seems as if the intention behind some of these group-focused programs and policies is to fuel intergroup conflict.