Whose Diversity? and the paradox of demands and dialogue

In the wake of Whose Diversity?’s Morrill Hall sit-in, it’s clear they’re interested less in dialogue than demands — some of which are unreasonable.

Take the group’s demand that the University of Minnesota remove race from crime alerts. More information helps us recognize suspects. But last year Whose Diversity? reasoned that putting race in crime alerts reinforces “stereotypical images of young black men as perpetual threats.”

Stereotypes don’t arise because a few members of a group act a certain way. Stereotypes are created by people — often people seeking to subjugate entire groups — who say, for instance, that because a few black men commit crimes near campus, all black men are criminals. That’s wrong.

The solution is to get to the root and attack that thought process itself as illogical and dehumanizing (because it is both). The solution is not to paper over stereotypes by pretending that race does not exist. The solution is not to deprive us of information, a public safety tool. The solution is not the demand.

Besides, the demand has an unreasonable basis. If we remove race from alerts to prevent stereotyping, why not gender? Why not age? Consistency would require that we remove all identifying information — because we form at the intersection of our identities, and every part of a person’s description can place them in one group or another.

Whose Diversity?’s logic extends this far, which exposes how hollow the demand is. Yet still University President Eric Kaler promised to “change our approach to using suspect descriptions.” That’s ambiguous, but the fact that he gives any credence at all to this demand proves that the University does want dialogue. It is Whose Diversity? that doesn’t.

Anyone starting with the premise that genuine dialogue requires their demands be met necessarily eschews dialogue. Whose Diversity? has done that. In May 2014, Kaler responded in depth to the group’s demands. But he didn’t cave to them. Here’s a telling part of the activists’ reply: “[W]e stated that we expected a response from you that included commitment to implementing the demands.”

That expectation encapsulates the group’s sense of entitlement: It seems to believe that unless the University adopts wholesale as policy the detailed wish list of one group of activists, it is refusing to cooperate.

But the University has some relevant programs in place already, continues to facilitate campus-wide discussion, and has even allocated money to meet at least one demand.

You don’t always get your way. Dialogue is collaboration. Dialogue is compromise. Demands are obstinate. Whose Diversity? — through its words and actions — has proven to be the latter.