On February 27, President Bob Kustra released a statement adopted by the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. The purpose of this statement was to reiterate the importance of diversity and inclusivity on campus. Although it shares similarities with the policies in the Student Code of Conduct and the Statement of Shared Values, the Commission’s statement is meant to emphasize Boise State’s commitment to diversity and inclusion specifically. While the Commission’s statement is good in theory, it fails to provide a clear action plan in regards to ensuring the enforcement of their statement. The lack of an action plan combined with the empty rhetoric makes this statement seem like another broken record repeating the same lyrics about diversity.
Prior to the recent release of this statement, the presence of diversity and inclusion at Boise State was only reflected in the Student Code of Conduct and Boise State’s Shared Values. In the statement, the Commission includes the definitions of the terms “diversity” and “inclusivity” and follows them with a list of ways that the University should abide by these values. For example, the statement includes ideas like, “unconditionally rejecting every form of bigotry, discrimination, hateful rhetoric, and hateful action”; “understanding that each individual is unique and deserving of respect”; and “recognizing that people have intersecting identities, which means that individuals experience identity differently, within structures of inequality and/or privilege” to name a few.
The Commission did its job in addressing the issues and topics that should to be discussed on campus, but it is only surface level. The objective tone of the statement creates a catch-22 situation. On the bright side, the objectivity is a slight advantage because it allows this policy to permeate within the walls of virtually anywhere on campus, but the level of impact is questionable. While the language sounds promising, it is still empty rhetoric. It does not suggest action that is necessary. It does not solidify who is meant to define what is considered to be discriminatory and what happens when something is in violation of this statement. This is where we run into a few problems.
Issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion are not meant to be—and have never been— easy topics to talk about, but the complexity of them cannot be overshadowed if progress is the goal. Of course there is no golden formula for addressing this. This is because the social climate surrounding diversity is incredibly dynamic, so policies/statements on diversity need to be able to adjust to fit the needs at the time.
Although the statement encompasses the importance of all backgrounds, identities and beliefs, it does not seem complete. This raises a few questions: what happens when there is a presence on campus that does not follow the values that are presented in this statement? Would this still be considered a group that is diverse, especially if it is at the expense of other students? This is a concept similar to the argument between free speech and hate speech. Where is the line drawn, and more importantly, who draws the line? Including this information would make the statement more effective, especially in terms of enforcing and practicing the values. This would also increase the validity of the statement and challenge the university to remain accountable.
Even though the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion’s statement is a great source to create open dialogue about diversity, it should complement this dialogue with conversations about how to turn the included values into effective action, especially since diversity seems to be a hot topic right now. Without this, the presence of this policy on campus could easily lose its traction.