About a hundred descendants of David and Yetta Cohen gathered for a family reunion in Georgia earlier this summer. Over the span of a few days, my aunts, uncles, and cousins, mostly Jews who live on the east coast, questioned me about Idaho, the state I’ve called home for nearly 25 years. Their curiosities were mostly about, in no particular order: potatoes, the blue football field, and my distance from Des Moines. Because Iowa. No one asked about Idaho’s “history” as a home for racists, or whether my big nose or my occasional use of Yiddish makes me a target for anything.
The interaction validates experiences of a quarter-century of national and international travels: People view Idaho as a welcoming state to people of all backgrounds, without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, age, or any other classification. So it was, long before the social justice crowd began quietly imposing its agenda on Idaho’s post-secondary campuses.
Angry advocates of radical “diversity and inclusion” programs argue we will face severe consequences from industry If we don’t play identity politics. These advocates, masters of virtue-signaling, want you to believe that Idaho campuses need racial quotas for graduate student slots, faculty lessons on “white fragility,” neo-segregationist graduations, staff and programs just for LGBTQ students and so on. They warn that without these things the state would be unable to attract diverse populations to Idaho’s higher education system; businesses would then pack up and leave because there would be no diverse pool of college graduates; finally, past-told tales of the long-gone racist compound in northern Idaho would self-resurrect.
In truth, abandoning the radical Left’s agenda on Idaho’s public college and university campuses would mean we’d stop mimicking the failed social justice experiments of states like California. We’d stop treating minorities as victims or as numbers on a spreadsheet to satisfy a quota. Or as a box that gets checked.
The same journalists, pundits, and political pontificates who rant about the need for diversity programs on campus unintentionally offer existence proof that real diversity and inclusion happen organically. Interestingly, none of the state’s largest newspapers has designated diversity officers or inclusion staff. Yet they still manage to recognize the importance of diversity on the payroll; they hire accordingly. They understand, as we all do, that diversity of people generates diversity of ideas. Such brings new perspectives to the table, and thus produces wider audiences and, usually, more favorable results. Said differently, diversity is good for business.
Each Idaho legislator who has raised objections to the programs at Boise State University and the University of Idaho supports open, welcoming campuses. They believe those public institutions can be at their most welcoming when the government doesn’t put its finger on the scale to tip the balance in favor of one group or another or as a means to pit different groups against each other.
My Mormon friends have and consume this green Jell-O. It somehow, for reasons I don’t fully understand, manages to contain carrot shards. That is the scariest thing this Jewish guy has encountered in his adopted home state. Never, ever have I seen or suffered a predilection toward intolerance by my fellow Idahoan. In fact, I saw more discrimination—more “otherization”—as a kid in the Bible Belt than I ever have in Idaho. It’s not to say bigotry doesn’t exist, because some individuals are racist. It’s to say that the Idaho self-shaming the Left does to justify the state’s radical agenda is overrated.
The people of this state, and their elected representatives, voice the belief that all people should be allowed to flourish based on their God-given talents, to live up to their full potential as students, as faculty, as employees, and as friends and neighbors. Nearly all Idahoans recognize that a person’s value runs deeper than the color of their skin, his or her sexual orientation, or any other stereotype. Most Idahoans also understand that we shouldn’t use political correctness—or the mischaracterization of Idaho’s position on the national or world stage as a haven for hate—as an excuse to amplify our differences.
We would do well to focus on the common beliefs that unite, not divide, us: Love for all people, a deep adherence to the idea of pluralism, and unyielding faith in the human potential.