Higher Education’s Commitment to Diversity not a Politically Partisan Position
On November 18, 2016 Presidents of Vermont colleges and universities issued a statement affirming their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion on their campuses and beyond. The statement was supported by Vermont’s democratic Governor and republican Governor-Elect as well as a group of business leaders. In it, Presidents cited the state of Vermont’s longstanding commitment to equity and condemned “any acts of unlawful discrimination, violence, and intimidation that target differences in national origin, race, sex, gender, religion, disability, or political viewpoint across our nation.” Such acts, they stated “run counter to the rights and freedoms upon which our country was founded and to the core values of the state of Vermont.”
Statements like this have been released across the United States in the aftermath of a difficult political season, and an election which seems to have brought to the surface a long string of vocal (and physical) acts of discrimination and hate. Campuses across the country, and even in Vermont, have not been sheltered from these actions, as evidenced by the number of incidents reported nationally, vandalism at Sterling College, or the theft of a Black Lives Matter Flag at UVM.
While the 2016 election has elicited many of the acts of discrimination described here and the statements condemning them, higher education’s commitment to diversity and equity is not a politically partisan position.
Rather, higher education’s commitment to diversity and equity is part of a longstanding focus on colleges as institutions meant to serve the public good, defined by Boyer (1990) as the “civic mandate” of higher education. College presidents have long agreed on their role as civic institutions, designed to promote democracy and prepare future citizens while contributing to the betterment of society. From the founding of Campus Compact in 1985 to the “Presidents’ Declaration of the Civic Responsibility of Higher Education” in 2000 to the 2016 Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Civic Action Statement, Presidents of colleges across the US have repeatedly endorsed statements outlining their commitment to democratic purposes. As the President of the national Campus Compact stated, “We are politically neutral, but we are not values-neutral.”
A democracy relies upon the full and equal participation of its members and the ability of its members to identify and solve social challenges. Furthermore, the democracy of the United States is founded upon principles of equity. Like many states, Vermont shares a history of striving to embrace diversity and the benefits that diversity offers while attending to the rights of all of its citizens. Combined, these historic and geographic roots have been compelling higher education to focus on diversity and equity for many years. This is not a new conversation; faculty and staff on our member campuses have been engaged in this good struggle for decades.
As we strive to work together to address the heightened need for action around diversity and equity at this moment in our history, let us also recognize that the journey is a long one and this is just one moment on the road. VHEC stands with our presidents in continuing our commitment to this work, whether embodied in our focus on “inclusive engagement” through Vermont Campus Compact, our “Colleague Conversation on Race & Racism” scheduled for January 30th, our “Colleague Conversation on Sexual Assault Prevention” later this spring, or the monthly diversity training that we conduct for our VISTA members. Equity has been and will continue to be one of our central values, no matter what the current political climate.