Marshawn Wolley: Rewriting code’s language is counterproductive

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Marshawn WolleyIn the case of Senate Bill 202, a well-placed comma could mean everything.

I had hoped I would not live to see a time where a positive use of the term “minority” was stricken from state statute. While I loathed the term and other efforts to merge my Black identity into a cultural malaise, I understand how the term in statute carries with it some efficiencies and even benefit.

SB 202, which amends the duties of diversity committees at state educational institutions, appears to be responding to the findings of a study commissioned by the Indiana General Assembly to look at free speech on college campuses.

There is a view by some in the Legislature that Indiana public institutions are too liberal and that more should be done to increase intellectual diversity—namely, the presentation of conservative ideas.

The Indiana Campus Free Speech survey went to all students attending Indiana public institutions. Over 18,000 students responding.

Just over 19% of respondents described their political views as very conservative or conservative, while a little over 33% said their views were liberal or very liberal. Just over 27% of students said their views were more moderate.

Indiana public institutions are hardly bastions for liberalism by these statistics, but conservative viewpoints could be considered a “minority” viewpoint. The same survey showed that more respondents “strongly agree” that white students can more openly express their views on their campus than can other groups, including Black, Hispanic and Native American.

Part of SB 202’s intent is to figure out how to get more students who might come from conservative backgrounds to attend Indiana public institutions.

It instructs boards of trustees at Indiana public institutions to create a diversity committee to look at cultural and intellectual diversity issues related to faculty employment policies and faculty and administration personnel complaints, and to make recommendations to promote and maintain cultural and intellectual diversity.

The bill removes language in the existing statute that referenced “minority” and replaces it with “underrepresented.”

The elimination of minority from a statute that is ostensibly focused on diversity and inclusion seems more than odd—it seems unnecessary and counterproductive.

Why shouldn’t trustees be tasked with trying to figure out how to get more “minorities” on campus?

Of course, the boards should make recommendations about how to increase cultural diversity—and it would be peculiar to do so without understanding the experiences of faculty and students of color—or, in this, instance “minorities.”

It shouldn’t be a problem that Indiana public institutions are trying to find new ways to increase diversity of minorities on college campuses. Removing “minority” from the statute seemingly makes it one.

Instead of stripping the word “minority” and replacing it with “underrepresented,” lawmakers could add “underrepresented” and place a comma between the two to represent the word “and,” like so: “minority, underrepresented.”

In this instance, a well-placed comma avoids confusion, supports a new legislative intent, and affirms that racial diversity at Indiana public institutions is not a bad thing.•

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Wolley is president and CEO of Black Onyx Management Inc. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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