For 50 grand you get egg-roll too

The magic word at just about every college in the land is, of course, “diversity.” It must be magic, because nobody has defined it or even given it a firm grammatical sense, so that the president of my former college, Saint Eustaby Catholic, could say without raising a laugh that 16 percent of the incoming freshman class was “diverse.”

Evidently all the other students were exactly alike? Perhaps the meaning was this: “Sixteen percent of the class is markedly different from the other 84 percent in some important cultural sense.” I doubt that it really means that, for reasons I shall give, but if it were true, and if such diversity were magically beneficial to those who meet it, then the 16 percent in question must be happy that they at least are surrounded all the time by people who are not like them, and would no more be eager to spend their time with their own sort than I would be eager to hang around with American tourists if I were going to live for four years in Florence.

Here let me meet the objection that I am being rude to “diverse” students. There is no such thing as a “diverse” student. That makes no grammatical or semantic sense. You cannot in yourself be “diverse,” just as you cannot in yourself be “various.” Only groups can be diverse or various, according to some criterion. Four thousand students, almost all of them from America, and therefore almost all of them people who speak English, who watch television, who listen to popular music, who have gone to our elementary and secondary asylums, and who are largely ignorant of their own language’s heritage of literature and their own nation’s heritage of art and their own faith’s heritage of intellectual endeavor, are not in any meaningful way diverse as regards culture. Four thousand people with empty pockets are 4,000 people with empty pockets.

But at Saint Eustaby Catholic, you are required to fulfill a “diversity” requirement by taking one of several dozen courses. Almost all of these have to do with contemporary politics from the left. So “Women in Sport and Dance” qualifies, as if 4,000 students had never heard of softball, gymnastics, or field hockey. “Genes and Gender” qualifies. “The Power of Whiteness” qualifies. But “Hispanic Civilization” does not qualify. If you read Spanish literature written by people who watch television and read newspapers and live in Cuba, that qualifies, but if you read Spanish literature written by people who rode horses and built cathedrals and lived in Spain, that does not qualify.

Modern China qualifies—that Mao-ridden desert where an ancient civilization used to be; but ancient Greece does not. Learning another language does not qualify. Taking a course in contemporary immigration does. Reading Toni Morrison, the African-American author who writes in English, qualifies. Reading Goethe in German does not—if you can find anybody now, at Saint Eustaby Catholic, who will teach him.

This is all intellectually incoherent and unfair to students who really want to encounter people who lived under very different conditions from our own, which is to say, just about everybody who lived before the industrial revolution. It is also an insult to people who have come from such places as Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and Sweden, as if they too were not at least in some minor way “diverse,” whatever that shall be taken to mean. So I suggest an expedient.

Let the “diversity” requirement remain as is, but give it the special designation we used to give to the best basketball team or the best football squad a school could field: divarsity. Then let the awkward, the slow, and the slightly built enjoy their bit of educational glory. We will designate their courses as Junior Divarsity. And we can make the distinction more than verbal. It should take two Junior Divarsity courses to equal one Divarsity course.

So let us suppose you are struggling to learn ancient Greek so you can take your agonizingly slow way through the Homeric hymns. You are in a world 3,000 years removed from ours, among people whose religion is utterly strange, for all that you have heard the names of their gods before. You are learning a language that is to be seen on no airline tickets and heard on no telecasts. You are trying to figure out what trade in olive oil means, and what a “polis” is, and how you steer a trireme. Now, I will admit that that is pretty paltry, compared with taking an education class in children with “special needs.” So let the ancient Greek class count as Junior Divarsity and the education class as Divarsity.

Or let us suppose you are immersed in the art of the Renaissance. If you don’t think that such art is foreign to almost everyone alive now, I ask you to tell me to whom English writers in the Victorian era were referring when they used the names “Sebastian” and “Guido.” Or I ask you to tell me the difference between the portraiture of Holbein and Titian. Well then, to study the period of greatest artistic flourishing in the history of mankind, when the thousandth best painter in Italy was a finer master of the human form than anyone alive today, should count for something, albeit not for too much. But “Visual Peace and Justice”? There you’re talking about a real challenge for the intellect. So let courses in Renaissance art count as Junior Divarsity, saving for whatever it’s called the coveted designation of Divarsity.

And just as in the old days of Varsity and Junior Varsity, people might, as a gesture of noblesse oblige, or because a cousin was playing on the team, or because they had nothing better to do, sometimes attend a Junior Varsity game, so too the Divarsity professors themselves might descend from their burnished thrones of state to look mildly and indulgently upon what the Junior Divarsity professors teach. They need not be enemies! And who knows but that the occasional Junior Divarsity professor, after assiduous concentration upon contemporary politics and determined attempts to let that politics colonize his thinking and teaching, might be drafted from the Junior Divarsity team to the Divarsity?

So a professor might begin by merely teaching the poetry of Chaucer—whose very name a majority of freshmen at our colleges will not recognize—and end by teaching a course in various Wives of Bath across the European tongues, and that would suffice, so long as the Wives were evaluated according to our feminism, and not according to the very different judgments the medieval authors themselves might make.

Why, I myself see that I left Saint Eustaby too soon. The idea for a splendid Divarsity course occurs to me now: Monolithic Global Liberalism. We would study how all political judgments are to be exactly the same in Sweden as in the Sudan, in New Jersey as in New Zealand, in Berlin as in Bhutan, now and evermore. Everyone shall speak the same language, the language of progressive obliteration of religion, tradition, cultural memory, and local community, in saecula saeculorum.

ANTHONY ESOLEN is professor of English Renaissance and classical literature at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H. He is a prolific author and has translated several epic poems of the West. He is a graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina. He is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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