“Everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”
So said novelist Kurt Vonnegut, talking broadly about flaws in human nature, but his words are almost painfully applicable to the recent failure of protesting students at New York’s Ithaca College to attend the very diversity forums that they themselves demanded.
After forcing their president, Tom Rochon, to almost literally run the gauntlet while demanding his resignation last December, Ithaca students protesting racist alumni, racist frat parties, and racist Public Safety officers (among other things) appeared to have won. Rochon has agreed to step down effective July 2017, and the college has set up Diversity and Inclusion Circles to, as Assistant to the Vice President for Finance and Administration Jamie Vorhees told Ithaca’s college newspaper, “[take] the taboo out of talking about race.”
There’s only one problem: none of the students are showing up, something the college’s newspaper has been loath to admit.
On September 19, The Ithacan ran a story with a photo caption that includes the phrase “students rarely show up to the meetings.”
In the story itself, Ithaca’s interlibrary loan coordinator Virgilio Pinto is quoted as saying “we haven’t seen many students at these meetings.”
But here’s the rub: Later in the story, the reporter acknowledges that “At the Sept. 4 meeting, out of approximately 30 participants, none were students. The following week at the Sept. 11 meeting, there were fewer members present and still no students.”
They don’t “rarely show up.” They’re not there.
When I read one of Vonnegut’s novels, I’m never quite sure if I should react by laughing or by drinking heavily, and I felt exactly the same way researching this piece.
I realize I’m being a little hard on Ithaca, but as a former college student, I get it.
Maybe students are too busy. Maybe they’re already “woke” enough and the forums are only intended for those who host or attend racist frat parties. Or maybe they don’t really want to participate in the forums, but just to go to a college (or be able to say they go to a college) that offers such forums.
That’s why students are able to tell Ithacan reporters that even if they weren’t going to meetings, they still thought the diversity forums were important.
But here’s my question: If you were that concerned about diversity, why not form your own diversity forums instead of demanding that the college establish them? It might be more time-consuming and far less sexy than bending powerful college presidents to the will of the student body, but there are some things that can’t be solved by bureaucratically imposed programs dropped whole and incorruptible from the sky.
Culture is shaped from the bottom up, and somebody has to do the maintenance.