Recent scholarship in higher education teaches us that college campuses are complex networks of diverse communities produced by different histories and micro-cultures. Each of them therefore requires specific tools for academic success. Across such complex networks, hierarchies of uneven institutional power will attempt to manage differences with generic and top-down approaches to complicated collective issues.
The recent message from the office of the Vice-Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (VC-EDI) exemplifies the superficiality of the generic approach. It reduces the most pressing issues of hostile climate and group dynamics to banal invocations of individualism — “Democracy is complex because no two people are the same” — and interpersonal relations — “It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.” These are tired bromides lacking any meaning in the real world.
Given the elaborate “diversity” infrastructure now in place at UCSD, ironically the result of past student activism, administrators charged to address these matters need to do better. Instead of protecting its brand by discouraging dissent, transparency, critical debate, and the empowerment of communities, VC-EDI needs to go back to school and read what scholars are saying about how to make transformative change on campuses in the 21st century.