i The Importance of Diversity at St. Norbert College | COLLEGE WRITING: DEBATE(S) IN HIGHER EDCUATION

Shiela Mae Holder

St. Norbert College is facing a crisis over the issue of diversity. Of all the arguments about issue of diversity, I narrowed the arguments into two different groups, even though I recognized there are many positions of this issue. There are two radically different groups, each taking a different position on the issue of diversity. In recent publications, one person argued that diversity has a good impact at St. Norbert and another person claimed that St. Norbert is a Catholic college that should not promote the diversity as a value. The future direction of St. Norbert College will be determined by this debate. In this essay I will argue that St. Norbert should be guided by the positive value of diversity.

St. Norbert College is a catholic college that really values individuals and diversity. In fact, it is part of the mission statement of the college to “uphold the sacred dignity of all persons.” St. Norbert College wants students to feel at home on the campus. St. Norbert said that among the more than 2,000 students at the college, there are a lot of students who represent diversity for the college because they come from different backgrounds, cultural identities, ethnicities, and religions. Also, St. Norbert has more than 70 organizations, among these organizations the Rainbow Alliance support diverse students. St. Norbert also has a women and gender studies program that focuses on issues regarding women, gender roles and equality. The website of the Multicultural Student Services says that “The office of multicultural student services works to uphold the values of the St. Norbert College mission statement by respecting the sacred dignity, and embracing the diversity, of all persons.”St. Norbert College wants to make sure that students can get a broader education that allows students to experience and value the diversity that exists in the real world.

Wolfgang Grassl, who is former professor at St. Norbert, sees the differences of race and sexuality as a challenge to St. Norbert College’s catholic values. Grassl criticized St. Norbert for being a catholic college with catholic traditions, saying that the college should not promote diversity. Grassl, as a conservative Christian, argued that St. Norbert’s commitment to diversity regarding differences of race and sexuality contradicts catholic values because St. Norbert should only support and welcome those who agree with the teachings of the church. Grassl stated in his article “Diversity is Not a Catholic Value” that “The frantic quest for ‘diversity’ is a deeply anti-Catholic impulse. It finds no support in Catholic moral and social teaching. There is no mention of diversity as a goal of Catholic life in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or in any of the pastoral, moral, or social constitutions and encyclicals before and after Vatican II. Diversity has never been advocated by the great thinkers of the Church, who have instead preached unity.” Grassl implied by this statement that St. Norbert College does not respect the catholic tradition of the college. The Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay named David Ricken agrees in part with Grassl’s opinion about St. Norbert. He also thinks that St. Norbert should be only supporting the Catholic Church’s teaching. This shows that it is not only Grassl who criticizes diversity and the liberal arts at St. Norbert College.

Megan Monahan is a former student at St. Norbert College. Megan believed that diversity is a St. Norbert value. In an article that she wrote in the SNC Times, she discussed that “St. Norbert is a liberal arts college rooted in the Catholic tradition. This college was not founded by the Norbertines to be a theological seminary; rather, it was founded to give students a well-rounded education so that they could learn to think critically. Of course, Catholicism is a huge part of SNC and always will be, but the beauty of St. Norbert is that the main focus has always been on creating well-rounded citizens that embody the Catholic values of community and service.”  In this statement, Megan argued that, even though St. Norbert is a catholic college, it does not mean that St. Norbert should strictly promote all the doctrines of the church. Megan argued against Grassl’s opinion that diversity is not a catholic value, especially when he focused on homosexuality and his belief that catholic universities who attract LGBT students and make them feel welcome are turning their backs on the Church and its teachings. Grassl stated that “Some Catholic universities actively strive to attract more gay and lesbian students, professors and staff, provide public forums for them, and thus cause what canon law calls scandal.”Megan replied that “Catholic colleges who welcome LGBT students, students of color, non-Catholic students and basically anyone that is different than a stereotypical white Midwestern Catholic are the real standard bearers of Catholic values.” In this statement, Megan shows that she believes that catholic colleges that welcome diversity are the real value of being Catholicism.

Even though Grassl does not think that diversity should be a value at St. Norbert College, I understand that there are some people like Grassl who really have strong commitments about catholic religion. Grassl has a right to express what he thinks as long as his not trying to harm other people. The point here is that Grassl has a right to express his opinion but it would be even more harmful to the community if we suppress the opinion of an individual, even a person who holds an opinion that might be harmful to the community. As J.S. Mill said in chapter II of On Liberty, we have no right to suppress other opinions because we need a diversity of opinions to make a strong society. Believing in diversity means tolerating those opinion who does not support diversity. This is why I think that Megan’s position is right because we all know that Catholicism will always be part of St. Norbert College but the main focus of St. Norbert is to have catholic value of community and service. To value diversity as a community is the real Catholicism at St. Norbert College.

After all these points, I think St. Norbert College is doing the right thing by supporting diversity. Being a catholic college does not mean that the college should force people to believe in the teachings of the church. There are some practical ways that the college can show further support for diversity. For example, the Admissions Office should make sure that in their brochures they make it clear that St. Norbert encourages different races, sexual orientations, etc. because some students think that catholic schools are not welcoming to such students. Although the Core Curriculum already has a category called Difference and Diversity, many other classes can be enriched with issues that relate to diversity.

As a student at St. Norbert College and at the same time an international student, I really like the fact that St. Norbert College stands up for diversity as a value even though I know it is catholic college. I know that Catholicism is a huge part of St. Norbert College. St. Norbert has a strong commitment to catholic tradition. But I also know that St. Norbert College is very open minded about diversity because St. Norbert wants to make sure that students realize that the world is becoming more diverse. St. Norbert knows that this is the way to let students understand that starting from now not only United States but the whole world is becoming more diverse. This could be a good thing if people understand the value of diversity, but it could be a bad thing if they don’t understand the value and this leads to conflict.


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