2009 Diversity Pledge
As a community, we believe that....
Every person has worth as an individual. Every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of class, color, disability, gender, nationality, race, or sexual orientation. Thoughts and acts of prejudice have no place in the UVA Law community.
Therefore, we pledge...
To treat all people with dignity and respect, to discourage others' prejudice in all its forms, and to strive to maintain a climate for work and learning based on mutual respect and understanding;
And from this day forward,
Knowing that both the UVA Law community and the world will be a better place because of our efforts, we will incorporate this pledge into our daily lives.
Some, I suppose, will find it threatening; I find it vapid. At some very high level of generality, almost every decent person agrees with the notion that "Every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of class, color, disability, gender, nationality, race, or sexual orientation." For instance, even many people who believe that homosexuality is wrong believe that people who are attracted to members of the same sex are entitled to dignity and respect — they just think that those people shouldn't engage in homosexual conduct.
The trouble is that the dispute is chiefly about what constitutes "prejudice," and what the obligation "[t]o treat all people with dignity and respect" means. If "prejudice in all its forms" means irrational hostility, then again this is banal to the point of irrelevance: Few people support irrational hostility. If "prejudice in all its forms" means all differences in treatment, then few people would condemn such a broad category of behavior; to do so, they'd have to oppose all race- and sex-based affirmative action, all immigration restrictions (since those discriminate based on not being an American national), all exclusions — no matter how justified by the demands of the task — based on disability, and so on. The same would be true if "prejudice in all its forms" covers all generalizations and preconceptions based on the attributes, however tentative. How many rational people would (or should) have no preconceptions about the possible dangerousness of a passerby on a dark street based on whether the passerby is a man or a woman? How many rational people would (or should) have no preconceptions about whether a blind person should drive a school bus? And these are just some of the most obvious examples.
Of course, I suspect that "prejudice in all its forms" means behavior that right-thinking people treat as prejudice. We can guess what the drafters' notion of right-thinking might be, though I suspect that even the drafters, however ideologically similar to each other they might be, wouldn't completely agree on that. And what do the signers mean by that? Beats me.
So this is all a long way of saying that the diversity pledge strikes me as quite empty of any intellectual value — it's a form of political posturing rather than serious engagement with the actual controversies and problems that modern law schools face. And I suspect that it's also quite empty of any political or community norm-setting value, partly for the reasons I mention above and partly because it would so clearly be understood as political posturing.
By the way, I should note that many of these criticisms can also be levied at the Pledge of Allegiance, which likewise lacks deep intellectual meaning. But if the Pledge works, it works precisely because it is aimed at conditioning the minds of small children, and because its message is understood to be empty of specific commitments that would be substantially controversial in modern American society, which may help it function as a broadly uniting national ritual. ("Under God" is probably the most controversial part, and that only mildly so in modern America; and my sense is even many irreligious people deal with the phrase simply by not saying it, usually with the understanding that the exclusion doesn't affect the general meaning.) I would have thought that these defenses would not be available as to a law school "diversity" pledge.
Thanks to John Rosenberg (Discriminations) for the pointer.