Diversity is and has been at the center of many of our debates about higher education and related issues, including freedom of speech. I see two different meanings of diversity, one compatible with free speech and one perhaps incompatible.
The ordinary meaning of diversity can be found in a dictionary, for example the online Oxford Living Dictionaries (is there an Oxford Originalist Dictionary?). There we find that diversity means “the state of being diverse” and diverse in turn means “showing a great deal of variety; very different.” This definition comports with freedom of speech. The First Amendment prevents public officials from imposing a single view on the governed, thereby protecting advocacy of diverse views. Diversity in this sense and free speech go together.
But diversity has another meaning which I think of as “diversity‐as‐recognition.” Imagine you see the world divided into two groups: oppressors and the oppressed. The speech of the oppressor dominates the society and the beliefs of its members; speech in this society is both unequal and unitary, not diverse. What should be done? Government officials (or for that matter, university administrators) should seek “true diversity” by promoting recognition of the equality of the oppressed. If this task were accomplished, all groups would speak from an equal place, and diversity of speech would truly exist.
But achieving this change might require censorship. The oppressor tends to utter speech that asserts the inequality of the oppressed. Such speech is incompatible with achieving equality and true diversity. Put otherwise, to just allow “a great deal of variety” in speech is not equal to the task of achieving “diversity‐as‐recognition.” Public officials or university administrators thus are required to censor extreme speech to achieve diversity‐as‐recognition. To allow the speech of the oppressor is to endorse oppression. Diversity‐as‐recognition thus seems to imply the return of “repressive tolerance.”
Some questions follow for me. Should all speech contrary to “diversity‐as‐recognition” be censored? Or should only extreme and unargued words be suppressed? In other words, should the advocate of diversity‐as‐recognition seek to suppress both Charles Murray and racial epithets or just the latter? And if the latter only, why?
Contrary to those questions, a second thought. Might diversity‐as‐recognition be interpreted in a way compatible with freedom of speech?
HT: Donald Downs for prompting thinking about the compatibility of diversity and free speech.