Fresno Pacific works constantly at strengthening healthy diversity in every area of the university, both because our Christ-centered mission and biblically based beliefs and values require it, and because our excellence in Christian higher education depends on it. The larger society and the government are also justifiably committed to diversity as an indicator of the commitment to ensuring equal rights to every person and as a way to make it happen.
In pursuing the noble condition of diversity, however, the larger system unintentionally, but too readily, falls into a self-defeating trap of its own making. This trap deeply affects Fresno Pacific and other Christian universities.
To ensure no organization or category of people denies its benefits or opportunities to any individual or class of people for inappropriate reasons, public policy tries to define or describe what diversity should look like across all groups. Laws, regulations, executive orders, etc., mandate uniformity in providing a working definition of acceptable patterns of diversity. This approach forces conformity with the standard by penalizing those who don’t match the standard. You do not have to like it or believe it. You just have to do it. Laws control behaviors, not convictions of the heart.
Patterns of diversity are often a useful indicator of social justice or basic fairness. Do dark-skinned people get mortgage loans from the bank the same way light-skinned folks do? Do older people get hired and paid to flip burgers the same as younger people? Do female athletes in a school have the same opportunities and support as male athletes? Diversity and equal opportunity are siblings in the social justice family.
This long-term commitment to define and require diversity has produced considerable progress and improvement in the human condition. Countless people once denied basic rights because of prejudice, or greed or the lust for power are now recognized and protected, even as we acknowledge there is more work to do.
Real freedom, however, requires that we look at diversity at the more comprehensive level of the entire system. Fresno Pacific and other Christ-centered universities fill a particular role in the huge and complex systems of higher education in the state of California and in the United States. As such super-systems seek to provide and protect diversity and equal opportunities for all the different people they serve, those who operate them are naturally tempted to define and uniformly require every institution to conform to a singular definition of diversity.
That is the self-defeating trap.
A truly diverse system that serves the wide range of human beliefs, values, sensitivities, interests and needs is one where the members of that system demonstrate diversity at the institutional level. And to create that diversity of educational cultures, worldviews, scholarship, values and learning opportunities, each institution must be able to intentionally include those persons who can contribute to that unique educational environment. As the State Legislature recently realized, if you want to have a women’s college, you must be able to exclude men. In the same way, imposing certain regulations on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) to increase diversity would decrease those schools’ distinctiveness and inhibit their mission.
A university like Fresno Pacific must be able to choose employees and board members whose religious convictions, values and behaviors create and sustain the unique learning experience that our students and families and supporters value. Our contribution to the diversity of the higher education system is described in the Fresno Pacific Idea, our Confession of Faith and our policies that put those principles into action.
There must be no disrespect for persons or institutions with differing beliefs, values, ethnicities or identities, not at FPU and not in the larger systems of society. But the health and success of the larger higher education system and of the society it serves depend on avoiding the self-defeating trap of trying to enforce a uniform definition of diversity on all member organizations. Our differences provide the true diversity that our world urgently needs.