Do Diverse Campuses Need More Christ?

Jonathan Zimmerman recently called for an affirmative action program for conservative college professors.  But what about for conservative students?  Do diverse campuses need to welcome groups with conservative, discriminatory policies?

A Christianity Today piece by Greg Jao, National Field Director for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, argues that true diversity, true learning, will only take place once universities welcome a “principled pluralism” to their campuses.  This means welcoming not only groups from a variety of racial or ethnic backgrounds, but also Christian groups like Intervarsity.  Campuses must remain, in Jao’s words, “communities with conflicting narratives and ideologies.”

Jao’s argument, like the broader conflict over the presence of conservative religious groups on college campuses, highlights the tension between tolerance and pluralism, between inclusiveness and exclusiveness.

Jao’s comments come largely in response to a continuing controversy over Intervarsity’s presence at Tufts University.

A couple of months ago, Tufts decided to “de-recognize” Intervarsity.  That meant the group would no longer receive university funding.  It could no longer use the Tufts name.  The reason for the decision was Intervarsity’s restriction on its leadership.  Only those who subscribe to the group’s Bible-based Christian theology could become leaders.  University policy at Tufts, as at many schools, requires student groups to welcome all comers, regardless of race, sexuality, religion, or other factors.

As the controversy wends its way through a cycle of appeals and counterappeals, activists on both sides have framed their position as the best chance for schools to achieve a healthily diverse campus.

One student argued in the pages of Tufts’ student newspaper that the Intervarsity group must be de-funded in order to combat bigotry.  As this student argued in September,

“Since when was freedom of religion a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card that excused bigotry? Since when was an organization like IVCF given the permission to speak for evangelical Christians such as myself? . . .  it is long past time to tolerate – that word the intolerant hate so much – self-righteous pontificating that says: ‘Yes, we will use your buildings and your money, and we will not treat you as an equal. Because we are religious.’”

Greg Jao’s more recent argument turns this on its head.  Jao insists, “A truly inclusive university should reject anti-discrimination policies which flatten differences and reduce true diversity.”

So which is it?  Must universities tolerate groups that discriminate?  Or, since many groups discriminate—such as an all-male a capella group or an all-engineering student fraternity—are only certain types of discrimination acceptable?  If so, who makes such decisions and on what grounds?

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