We have a manifesto for everything. Feminists, Christian conservatives, radical leftists, nationalists – they all have a voice out there. A potent mix of opinion, vision and action. If there’s a Jihadist against Jews and Crusaders manifesto online to radicalise people, rest assured there will be a counter opinion on Google.

Perhaps the reason why manifestos appeal so much is that they inspire. We are hungry for inspiration. Action needs more than rationality and logic. We need vision and emotive drive to create social change. Today, manifestos have taken the form of open letters online. They personalise urgency.

Some members of our university have just published an open letter on the critical need for diversity at the university. It extends into an online petition. With a specific worldview and prescription for change, I fear it may invite more consensus but less conversation. I signed the letter to support the cause but not the content in its entirety.

Is this the best way to talk about and act on diversity? The danger lies in sending a message that if you are not for our version of diversity (by signing), you are against it.

There is the intent for equality and there is the process to achieve this ideal. It is understandable why some would not readily agree on the latter. There are legitimate reasons for discussing what constitutes diversity and how to juggle the inclusion of those left out without alienating those from within. Identity politics clash with meritocracy politics. Are white Dutch men the enemy now? Is gender the proxy for diversity? Whatever happened to social mobility in academia, especially in the age of Trump and Brexit?

If we look globally, diversity politics is playing out in some contentious ways. Quota systems at Indian universities fuel caste politics. Affirmative action in the United States tells us of the challenges when instituting bias based on identity over merit.

Moreover, if we want to create radical change within, we need to build ownership of ideas across stakeholders. Rather than have a petition with a prescription from a small cohort of people, would it not be more powerful to have one that collectively mobilises worldviews through vigorous debate on what counts as diversity and why it matters?

If we want true action on diversity at our university, I call upon sustainable equity that outlives identity politics.

7 comments already — join the discussion!