Diversity: Some Restrictions May Apply (Addendum)

Should promises of diversity (including everyone and allowing everyone to have the same opportunities at a college) be limited or otherwise broken by a college? If a college allows Catholic organizations and does not allow clubs for atheistic students, are their promises of diversity genuine? I will argue that in a college setting, administrators should not put limits on their promises of diversity and should not break their own rules. Colleges that do not allow certain clubs and break their own rules to allow organizations to discriminate are being inconsistent, unfair, and profoundly intellectually dishonest.

In previous posts and in public forums, I have taken King's College to task for their lack of full diversity. From one area, King's College says that they welcome all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and list, in their student handbook, various commitments to diversity. Student clubs are also offered in order to further this commitment and support students. King's College also notes that student clubs may not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, or religion. Despite all of this, clubs which exist on campus such as the Knights of Columbus and a female counterpart (separate but equal, anyone?) known as The Columbiettes break these rules. When I mentioned this and went very public in 2010 and 2011, after my secular club was refused because it “was against the mission statement of the college.” my concerns were not addressed and nothing was done.

The club that I proposed in 2009 at King's College was an affiliate group of the Secular Student Alliance (a national organization that facilitates groups of students at colleges and high schools) that was primarily for non-religious students, but religious students were also welcome. I noted, in one of several proposal statements (that were not required for a club to exist, but I went the extra mile) that non-religious people are very underrepresented at King's College and elsewhere and should not be disqualified from having a club simply because of philosophical beliefs that differ from others. While diversity of ideas is not often promoted at universities, according to my experience (it's usually skin color), this should be an important part of diversity.

The Office of College Diversity at King's College states, in the student handbook, "[The office]works toward promoting and incorporating an appreciation for the multicultural nature of our society into every aspect of campus life. Educational, social, and cultural programs are the primary means that this office seeks to expand the multicultural and global perspectives of King's College students. In addition, the Director of College Diversity assists many students from under represented groups with academic, social, and personal issues. We allow for the inclusion of all who access our services and resources. We work with individual students, student organizations, faculty members, and faculty members interested in fostering an environment of respect and appreciation around issues of diversity, including but not limited to race, gender, ethnicity, and social justice. By working collaboratively, we can create an environment where intercultural dialogue and interaction is encouraged and expected."

Why should student groups be excluded when others are embraced in a mission statement such as this? To exclude atheists from having the same services and the ability to have a club on campus is unfair. The office says that it works with all students.

Although King's College is a Catholic College, this should not mean that particular groups of students should be denied the ability to have a club and this also should not mean that some rules can be broken in order for other organizations to exist. Why should Catholics get special privileges to break the rules stated by the college, yet atheists who play by the rules are denied their rights as college students to form a group?

Another concern of mine, which was never fully addressed, was regarding a club at King's College called “The Questions and Answers Club” [which still is not on the activities page on the King's College website despite multiple requests by me, but it is on the student government page]. The club, as you would never expect, is a club for homosexual students and gay allies to address concerns that homosexuals face, provide community, and educate. In my final year of college, I decided to be an active member in this club. One of my first questions was regarding the name of the group. I never got a straight answer from anyone and answers given by officers of the club differed. The ultimate message I got was that the college wanted the group to not call the group a gay/straight alliance and “allowed the group to exist” so people were OK with changing the name of the group. In this case, we have a college that is supposed to promote diversity, but at the same time encouraging groups to change their names. This is a problem.

A message of full diversity should not have limits. While colleges might want to restrict groups such as NAMBLA and Aryan Youth, good reasons can be given for doing so and this would not be restricting diversity. There are obvious good reasons to not allow racists or people who are pedophiles to have groups on campuses and doing so would not be unfair. While a Catholic school obviously is not secular and its administrators presumably believe in a god, why should atheists not have the same opportunities as other students? Atheists are a 'large minority' at Catholic schools and many of them are closeted including students, teachers, and administrators.

Religious schools should welcome atheist clubs as an opportunity to challenge the the beliefs of the religious, think about difficult issues, and understand what those who are godless do believe. It is quite often the case that religious people misrepresent atheists or otherwise do not understand the philosophical arguments against gods. Instead of religious people asking me why I do not believe in any gods, they often jump to conclusions by saying things like “What bad things happened in your life?,” “Why do you hate God?,” etc. Clubs on campus that are for atheists or homosexuals and gay allies allow for those outside of the clubs and inside to become educated regardless of what others may believe.

Clubs that promote a message of diversity should be consistent with their own ideals instead of allowing people to break their own rules and excluding people who they may disagree with or not appreciate. Any college that does not allow atheist clubs or groups for homosexuals and gay allies (or otherwise apply 'special rules' for the clubs such as making them change their names or suggesting they do so) is not being honest and really is not embracing diversity in any meaningful sense. All students at colleges should be treated fairly and play by the same rules. Diversity should not have hidden fine print or asterisks.

Special concerns:

Should groups be allowed to restrict membership?

This issue is a tough issue that I am leaning toward 'yes' on when such restrictions are reasonable. For example, if atheists were allowed to have a club at an organization and Christians wanted to join in order to disrupt activities of the group, vote in non-atheist officers, etc, it would be reasonable to limit membership and perhaps simply allow Christians to attend meetings or other special events such as open discussions, debates, etc. Group members can surely file complaints with the college if there are problems. This might get more difficult when considering private schools versus public schools.

Should colleges write into their own rules that groups such as LGBT groups and atheist groups are not allowed?

In the above example of King's College, their statements about diversity are not limited, so this is not a problem. I would think though, not just because I am a gay ally and an atheist, that certain groups should not be excluded (unless they are hate groups, pedophiles, etc) from statements of diversity especially when such groups are underrepresented, mistreated, and stigmatized.