The issue of intercultural diversity is unanimously understood as an issue worth addressing at Northwestern. This institution should be applauded for the courageous steps it has taken. However, it should nonetheless be discussed if we are taking the right kind of action or the right amount of action. What should furthermore be discussed are some aspects of the approach Northwestern has taken to addressing the topic of intercultural diversity.
Discussing the different ways we address intercultural diversity is not adequate on its own. In order to understand the different actions we have taken, it is imperative that we understand the principles and fundamental beliefs to which we adhere. The most basic precepts which must be brought into light are those we draw from Scripture.
In chapel last year, I distinctly remember an address to the student body from a spokesperson for the Office of Intercultural Unity (now C-GRACE). He exhorted this institution on the basis 2 Cor. 5 to carry out the biblical “mandate” for interracial reconciliation.
Now while I do not dispute that interracial reconciliation may be understood as an implication of the passage, I take contention with it being characterized as a “mandate.” The term “mandate” carries the connotation of an explicit authoritative command. In 2 Cor. 5:20, there is indeed a mandate to be reconciled; however, it is not explicitly referring to the interracial kind. In fact, the language could not be more precise: “Be reconciled to God” (v.20). The mandate this passage carries is that each person should be reconciled to God on the basis of Christ.
While it follows that interpersonal and interracial reconciliation should follow, it is simply the case that this mandate is explicitly referring to something other than interracial unification. The same can be said of the rest of the Bible as well, which in no place unequivocally contains a racial reconciliation mandate. Therefore, this language is misleading and we should stop using it to refer to this issue.
The absence of a clear mandate in Scripture does not mean that Christians should hesitate to become involved in an issue. There are dilemmas we face today which the Bible does not specifically address, and yet, the position Christians take is clearly a consequence of the Bible. One example is abortion: although the Bible never out-rightly addresses abortion, reason and our own consciences have guided us to the conclusion that it is clearly wrong.
Similarly, there are arguments evoked at Northwestern in reference to interracial reconciliation. One is as follows: everyone’s educational experience is enhanced by different viewpoints in the classroom brought about by the presence of students of different cultural backgrounds and experiences. I find this train of thought to be disconcerting. One flaw is that it assumes that the apprehension of truth can be enhanced by involving multiple viewpoints. When this is thought about in practice, it quickly unravels. Does coming from another background increase one’s insight into how to apply a mathematical formula or to know the history of the Roman Empire? Clearly this is not the case.
Moreover, there is a more serious objection to this argument. Assuming that intercultural students enhance the classroom learning experience is unfair to those students. It unduly places demand characteristics on their presence. The implicit message this communicates is that interracial students have to contribute something to the learning experience above and beyond everybody else. This unneeded, additional pressure is objectionable. When grappling with this issue, this argument should not be used because of the discomfort it could exclusively cause to intercultural students.
There is of course a myriad of additional arguments to be considered in this domain—many of them probably perfectly valid. However, as with any issue we face, there is the possibility that we may embrace the right position for the wrong reasons. In these two specific instances, our reasoning was flawed.
In conversations with other students, it has often been expressed that our school’s response to racial reconciliation is exaggerated. Perhaps this over-emphasis stems from some incorrect notions to which we adhere. It is not being suggested that this whole concept be rejected but that our understanding of the paradigm be adjusted to integrate these new ideas. This may lead to a more balanced approach from our institution which is more agreeable to the community as a whole.