The following op-ed appeared in Penn Live on 30 July 2019:
Inclusion Is the Heart of the American Way
Boise State University’s new president, Marlene Tromp, was recently pressed by a group of Idaho lawmakers to cease diversity and inclusion programs for being antithetical to the “Idaho way,” as reported by the Idaho Statesman.
Universities create and promote inclusion programs to develop citizens who exhibit the behaviors Americans expect from our leaders. Sadly, we also recognize the need to give our students the tools to navigate a world that is likely to demean or, even worse, discriminate against them.
The intolerant rhetoric and actions of prominent public officials is agonizing proof of our nation’s desperate need to learn how to live and thrive as a diverse and respectful society.
Inclusion is the heart of the American way. Our history is one of incremental progress toward an ideal framed by our founders. As an ideal, it was an aspiration that the architects of our nation failed to achieve in their contemporary realities, but in the 243 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our nation has moved step by step toward true democratic pluralism.
The path has been painfully slow for the disenfranchised for whom, to paraphrase Dr. King, justice delayed has been justice denied. The destiny he clearly articulated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington remains the prophetic landing place for our nation’s maturity.
This spring, KQED published a story about Joe Lipton who recently shared a letter he received from Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz in 1970 when Lipton 10 years old. As part of a school assignment, Lipton had asked Schulz, “What makes a good citizen?” Schulz replied:
I think it is more difficult these days to define what makes a good citizen than it has ever been before. Certainly, all any of us can do is follow our own conscience and retain faith in our democracy. Sometimes it is the very people who cry out the loudest in favor of getting back to what they call ‘American Virtues’ who lack this faith in our country. I believe that our greatest strength lies always in the protection of our smallest minorities.
Schulz’s remarks are presciently relevant to our current national crossroads and evocative of the scripture verse, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
We promote diversity and inclusion on our campuses because they align with our missions. Like the ideals of the founders, we often fall short of our aspirations, but, like our nation, we must continue to strive toward the noblest goals. This is how we fulfill our calling to develop the citizen leaders our nation and world so desperately need.
We are counting on them to lift up the smallest voices and to provide a society that celebrates and respects the rich diversity of all its members. That is the true meaning of the American Way.