Why Wheaton’s Diversity Matters

wheaton(this is not an April Fools post. This is a rough rough draft of an article I’m working on to submit to the Wheaton Record, the student newspaper at my alma mater, Wheaton College. I could really, really use some feedback on it. Is it effective in keeping your attention and making the point? Should I cut anything out, clarify… I could really use your feedback, thanks)

Why Wheaton’s Diversity Matters

Wheaton College, as an academic institution and as a Christian community, recognizes the importance of diversity. I saw an indication of this when I received my acceptance letter in the spring of 2001. You see, when Wheaton, as well as many other colleges, looks at applicants for admission, they take into consideration additional factors beyond simple academic performance. Wheaton does so because it recognizes the importance of a diverse student body. For example, there is special consideration for student athletes because we recognize the benefit sports bring to a college community. And there was special consideration for me, and many of you when you enrolled at this fine institution, simply because you are a male.

It’s no secret women, and particularly Wheaton women, are smarter then men. Incoming Wheaton females have higher gpa’s then Wheaton males, and the reality is that if admission was on academic qualification alone, Wheaton’s student body would probably be around 70% female. Yet, Wheaton College, for the benefit of both sexes and the community, intentionally maintains around a 50/50 female-to-male ratio. Why is that? Because Wheaton College recognizes the importance of diversity.

As was announced recently, Wheaton’s current president, A. Duane Litfin, will be retiring in the summer of 2010 and a presidential selection committee has been formed to choose the new president. In putting together the concise “qualifications desired” for the next president, the selection committee also recognized the importance of diversity, including this statement under “Commitment”

  • To champion ethnic, economic, and gender diversity

In addition, the Selection Committee has been proactive in seeking out diverse candidates, including advertising the position in publications like Diversity in Higher Ed and Hispanic Educator.

Yet, despite a commitment to diversity, the selection committee contains only two women, out of ten positions, and one African American. It seems the importance of a gender balance in the student body, that I benefited from, does not carryover into areas such as selection committees, and highly unlikely it will carryover into consideration of presidential candidates.

Am I asking the selection committee to consider only female and minority candidates? If only I would be so bold. That would seem terribly unreasonable at this stage and so instead I ask this of the Selection Committee: Please take into careful consideration the depth of value the experiences of a female or minority candidate bring to the position of college president.

Wheaton College has had seven presidents in it’s 150 year history, Litfin’s tenure beginning in 1993. All seven of the past presidents have been white males and, if we are honest, we should acknowledge that our historical prejudices would not have allowed it otherwise. Compared to other academic institutions, Christian college presidents (in the CCCU) are far whiter and more male then their secular counterparts (no minority CCCU presidents and only 2% female, compared to 12.8% and 21.1% respectively in all national institutions).

If Wheaton College is as committed to diversity as we say we are, as the presidential qualifications acknowledge our commitment, and our admission consideration regarding gender acknowledges, then it behooves us to make diversity of primary importance in considering the next leader of this great academic institution.

(Ariah is currently collaborating with other alumni, faculty and current students on a collective statement to the Selection Committee regarding the importance of diversity to their selection of the next president. If you are interested in being a part of that statement or would be willing to help gather signatures, please email him)

5 thoughts on “Why Wheaton’s Diversity Matters”

  1. Hey Ariah,

    I think you've got a good start. I think that it's an important topic, and you kept me engaged. The biggest questions that stood out to me came in the paragraph where you introduce the make-up of the selection committee and state that it is "…highly unlikely it will carryover into consideration of presidential candidates."

    Being as this is the segue into your closing paragraphs, I felt like I needed more evidence for your conclusions. For example, beyond the final make-up of the committee, I would like to know more about how the members of the committee were selected and why you think the committee has the potential to ignore diversity, particularly when you make a strong case for the opposite in the preceding paragraph.

    Just my two cents,

  2. Hey Ariah,
    Forgive me if I seem a bit overcritical, but I'd like to share my comments with you. They begin with this sentence-and-a-half from your article:

    "Am I asking the selection committee to consider only female and minority candidates? If only I would be so bold. That would seem terribly unreasonable at this stage…"

    I'd consider removing these sentences. Even though you say that you aren't asking the selection committee to only consider women and minorities, you've already made your true feelings clear by including these sentences. I read this and my first impression (probably because I'm a white male, I realize) is that you think now, or at some time later on down the road, Wheaton only ought to interview females and minorities. I definitely agree that more female and/or minority candidates should be interviewed and considered, but including this sentence-and-a-half distracts me from an otherwise great string of thoughts because it seems that you want to trade one extreme for another. While this could definitely get good discussion going among the students, and perhaps even a few faculty members, the administration won't get past these two sentences and your credibility in their eyes will be shot.

    Secondly, I'm having a hard time seeing the 1:1 correlation between the male-female ratio at Wheaton and the election of a new president. I'm not sure these are even close to being comparable situations, though perhaps I'm not looking at it the right way.

    Additionally, I think the CCCU numbers are fantastic statistics, and they need to have a more prominent role in the article to prove a point about Wheaton in the national setting.

    Finally, I'd like to thank you for writing this and encourage you to keep on doing what you're doing. Just remember that most of the people who you would like to see change their ways (i.e. the administration at Wheaton) are probably many steps behind you in their understanding of diversity. So writing something that may sound perfectly normal to your ears could sound extremist in theirs, even if it's only one sentence, and cause them to become defensive. If you want to stir up discussion among the students, by all means write an article that proposes something radical. However, if you want a chance at being heard by faculty and administration, write in such a way that encourages them to take a step in the right direction.

    That's my two cents. Sorry, it was kind of long. You're a stud, Ariah.


  3. Jason, thank you for your response, nothing is overcritical when I'm looking for honest feedback, so you are in fact, the Stud.

    I think your right on about that sentence, it's sort of what I'd like to suggest, but I'm probably the lone one, and your right on both fronts, I should probably take that part out.

    My point about the male-female ratio, is it seems to me the most obvious indication that Wheaton both values diversity (specifically gender) and has taken the steps to implement it. It's an obvious form of affirmative action (which I had also written, but took out). Maybe it doesn't work, but my intent was to point to it as an example of Wheaton already believes in diversity and acts on it, rather then trying to write a multi-page dissertation on the value of diversity (ethnically or regarding gender). Does that make more sense? Maybe I should make that more explicit.

    I checked with The Record and they'll only take a Letter to the editor, which means 300 word limit, which is about half of what I have now, so I need to consolidate anyways.

    I really appreciate the feedback.

    By the way, no one has jumped on to mention this sentence:
    “All seven of the past presidents have been white males and, if we are honest, we should acknowledge that our historical prejudices would not have allowed it otherwise.”

    I thought the second half of the sentence might rub folks the wrong way or assume too much. What do you think?

  4. Great point, I'll need to reword that. And that part you quoted is probably more speculation and negative, not the tone I should have.
    Thanks for the feedback.

  5. this is good work, ariah. you might want to tease out the significance of what a non-white or female president might bring to wheaton in terms of diversity. i'm with you, but then again you're singing to the choir.

    in an institution like wheaton, placing a non-white or female in the president's seat would make a powerful statement about wheaton's commitment to diversity – you're working at teasing out what exactly "commitment to diversity" means – does commitment to diversity mean affirmative action and balancing ratios, or does wheaton's commitment dig deep enough to mean shared power, voice and influence?

    great work – keep me posted. might want to dialogue w/Dante too.

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