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Values in collision: Reconciling Viewpoint Diversity and Social Justice on Campus

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In today’s extremely polarized world, many feel unheard. During the 2017 Humanity in Action Berlin Conference, there was a panel discussion titled “How Identity Politics Empower and Paralyze Us.” The panelists brought up intentionally controversial points – from arguing that bad identity politics led to the rise of Trump, to asking whether the question “where do you come from?” is actually offensive or not.

These attendees’ concerns deserve to be heard but at the same time, their actions deserve to be questioned – not just because they were unreasonable, but because they are ineffective. There was a slight disconnect between the panelists and the students, which sparked an idea in Senior Fellows Zaakir Tameez and Helen Kramer.

They wanted to help viewpoint-diversity advocates get their point across, while also helping these intellectuals recognize that both conversations are necessary.

They decided to connect directly with academics who have been the most vocally critical of student activists, and help these academics explain what they have to say in a thoughtful way that supports meaningful social justice self-reflection without brushing the concerns of marginalized communities aside. They wanted to help viewpoint-diversity advocates get their point across, while also helping these intellectuals recognize that real viewpoint diversity cannot be achieved unless they actively incorporate students’ analysis of social injustice on campus into their work.

While the Fellows agreed that ideological diversity is important and that in some cases student protesters go too far, they also understood that racial prejudice, sexism, homophobia, etc. are also ideologies that actively dehumanize and delegitimize some speakers’ ability to participate in academic inquiry at all.

Zaakir and Helen brought their criticism to Dr. Jonathan Haidt, the most prominent American public intellectual in the campus viewpoint diversity conversation.

They wanted to help academics explain what they have to say in a thoughtful way that supports meaningful social justice self-reflection.

They suggested to him that the student activist’s perspective on belongingness uncertainty needs to be incorporated into his work, and he agreed.

Many people advocating for free speech and viewpoint diversity on campuses aren’t fully understanding student activists’ best arguments.

Then, Helen worked with him to make edits to several parts of his upcoming book titled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” which was published in July 2018. Next, they secured upcoming meetings with him and Caroline Mehl to discuss future collaboration with Heterodox Academy, which is an organization he founded that has a network of more than 1,800 professors and graduate students across the country dedicated to improving the quality of research and education in universities by increasing viewpoint diversity, mutual understanding and constructive disagreement. Zaakir and Helen hope that their forthcoming work with Heterodox Academy will help concretize some of their ideas into the public arena.

Read about Zaakir Tameez’s thoughts on the lessons we can take away from Charlottesville in the Houston Chronicle here.