The slow but steady erosion of conviction at Whitworth

Our campus’ conception of diversity is slowly but surely eroding everything this university claims to stand for. Don’t burn me at the stake just yet - allow me to explain.

Diversity as a concept is a vital part of a thriving community. Allowing people from all walks of life to have a voice and to have a place to call home is a good, praiseworthy thing - especially when those people have views and values that clash with our own.

I have genuine respect for the efforts Whitworth University has made to increase the level and quality of diversity on campus. Bringing in students of other faiths, nationalities, backgrounds, social classes, etc., is a non-negotiable element of a complete liberal arts education.

Why is this the case? Simply because no one ever learned anything by talking to him- or herself. Fill up a room with similar people and, surprise surprise, they’ll all leave looking about the same as when they went in.

You can’t build bigger biceps without the challenge of a free weight or two. By the same token, we don’t grow as people if we’re not challenged and pushed out of our comfort zone by new experiences, differing viewpoints and foreign lifestyles.

That’s a concept that probably won’t shake up too many people here - we’re a campus that, in general, values diversity of people and opinions. Whitworth FM has a radio show every Thursday where a dedicated conservative and a passionate liberal go head to head in a program called “Civil Disagreement.” And not only are they able to carry out their discussion in a genteel manner, they happen to be close friends off the air. Not something you’d expect to find in the “real world,” where the likes of Glenn Beck rule the airwaves. But we have it here, and it’s a good thing.

However.

I fear that in our passionate pursuit of diversity, we have forgotten, or are starting to forget, our convictions. I fear that we have confused the concept of “tolerance” or even “love” with that of “acceptance.” And I fear that if we become a campus that accepts everything, we will become a campus that stands for nothing.

When I speak of tolerance, I refer to its classic definition and not to the popular, modern definition. By the classic definition, it is possible to tolerate an idea or a person without having to agree. Put in blunt terms, the concept of tolerance is “live and let live.”

In recent years, the meaning has shifted to something more along the lines of “we may disagree, but that doesn’t matter because we’re both right in our own way.”

This modern definition of tolerance falls more in line with my definition of “acceptance,” the idea that personal choices (whether they be about faith, lifestyle, sexuality or anything) can’t be criticized, and the person that does criticize is automatically wrong.

I don’t believe that “different” always means “wrong.” Neither do I believe that I have a complete grasp of what is “right” or “correct,” but there is a standard of Truth that everyone should strive for, regardless of subjective opinions.

The cry often goes up that students who don’t fit the “Whitworth norm” feel like they are not accepted. And while there are some legitimate problems that need to be dealt with (racism and bigotry do happen here, and it’s a tragedy), I have to wonder why, for example, an atheist student who sleeps around and gets high on the weekends expects to feel completely accepted here. Or why a Mormon student would expect to feel no tension at a school that holds to beliefs different than his or her own.

It’s like traveling to another country and demanding the people there to speak English as their primary language. It’s arrogant and insensitive, but more than that, it’s just kind of ridiculous.

Students know what they’re signing up for when they come here. It’s not hidden. This is a Christian university. If students don’t want that, there are three or four state schools within a day’s drive of here that won’t present Christ to you ... all for a fraction of the cost.

This extends beyond the faith debate, as well. Classes like Core 350 present their material via a method I have dubbed the “throw it all against the wall” method. A wide variety of thinkers are brought forth, their ideas laid out … and then left behind. There is little criticism, little examination, and rarely, if ever, a comparison to the views of the book this university claims to be founded on.

Students are implicitly encouraged to take their pick of whichever thinker makes the most sense to them and then run with that. Criticizing that choice is then taboo for faculty and other students.

I recognize that these are generalizations - there are classes and faculty who don’t line up with what I have described above. But regardless, it is still a trend.

Criticism does not have to be a negative thing. Debate should be encouraged. All ideas are not created equal, and if faculty members treat all viewpoints as if they have equal merit, then student development is severely hampered. No student is aided by being allowed to maintain a system of thinking that doesn’t work in the real world.

Whitworth claims to be a place that follows Christ and serves humanity. Sadly, between the blind pursuit of diversity and the rather nonsensical pressure to make all students feel “accepted,” it seems to be becoming less a place that honors Christ, and more one that tacks his name to our literature for the sake of tradition.

Jerod Jarvis

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