• Conversations on Diversity

    A blog by Eboo Patel, Mary Ellen Giess and Tony Banout that looks at identity and diversity issues from multiple angles.

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Colleges and the Leaders a Diverse Democracy Needs

America needs civic spaces that bring different people together. Can colleges nurture leaders who can build such spaces?

November 12, 2019
 
 

When I do diversity talks on college campuses, I often run across a progressive student activist who tells me with pride that they are eager to partner across lines of diversity, especially if it means enlarging the circle willing to disdain political conservatives. I generally agree with this individual’s politics, but I disagree with their civics.

Here is the scenario that I present to these students: let’s say you are a heart surgeon and you get scheduled for a two-person life-saving heart surgery tomorrow. As you are putting on your surgical gloves, you overhear the other doctor say to one of the nurses that she voted for Trump. Would you refuse to perform the surgery?

What if you overheard the patient say he voted for Trump? No more operation? Will you only save the lives of people who voted like you did? Do you want an America that is the ideological version of Mostar, where people who work for the progressive fire department don’t respond to conservative homes that are in flames?

OK, now let’s walk it down the chain. Would you refuse to even be on a medical staff with people who voted differently than you? How about a Parent Teacher Association? Would you coach Little League with that person? Would you take your kids off a baseball team if that other person was the coach?

The only way to have a healthy, diverse democracy is for people to be able to disagree on some fundamental things and still work together on others. We need more civic leaders building more spaces where that ethic is enacted.

Here is how I define the civic: spaces where people from different backgrounds come together in shared activities that promote the general well-being and that guide cooperative relationships. Little League baseball, community theaters, volunteer programs, schools, health clinics -- these are what make up “the civic.” These spaces and institutions do not fall from the sky or rise from the ground -- people build them. Civic leaders build them.

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