By George Leef
Nearly all of America’s premier colleges and universities grandly state that they are dedicated to “diversity and inclusiveness.” They have established administrative bureaucracies bearing names like “Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” and pride themselves on their success in recruiting students from groups that have been historically “underserved” by higher education.
How about military veterans?
Veterans are a minority group in the population. Historically, only a small percentage of veterans have gone on to study at any college or university, much less one of our elite institutions. Moreover, those who have served in the military would add to the “diversity” of college campuses by virtue of their distinctive, sometimes harrowing experiences. If, as college officials often say, it’s important to “learn from people who are different,” that would seem to apply just as much to veterans as to students whose ancestry makes them “black,” or “Hispanic,” or some other group.
But, as a Hechinger Report from last November points out, veterans are “an almost invisible minority” at our top colleges and universities. Writes author Brian Mockenhaupt, “Though America’s top institutions are trying to increase this population, who bring with them not only a unique perspective on the world but also, collectively, millions of dollars in GI-Bill benefits, veterans still make up well under 1 percent of the undergraduates on most of these campuses.”
The article introduces us to Sam Fendler, who served four years in the Marine Corps. After leaving the military, Fendler enrolled at Penn State and after two years there, transferred to Princeton. There, he is one of just 12 veterans, although that number has increased from just one vet three years ago. In a sociology course he’s taking, “The Western Way of War,” Fendler thinks he has something to contribute since he has actually fought in war.
Most of our top schools, however, treat veterans no differently than they treat most other applicants. They aren’t sought after; no college crows about having met a goal for enrolling veterans or claims that vets are contributing to the “richness of campus life.”
One professor who is passionate about veterans is Wick Sloane of Bunker Hill Community College. Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Sloane argues that our political leaders might be less inclined to get involved in wars if they or their children had ever gotten to know a wounded soldier: “If these leaders, who as students were freed from going to war by a voluntary military, never listened to a volunteer who at their own age was blown up by an improvised explosive device and spent weeks in Walter Reed Medical Center, what will these leaders think before sending other people’s children off to war?”
It may seem quite a stretch to argue that enrolling vets would improve the educational climate on a campus because the viewpoints and experiences of vets might have an impact on other students, thus leading to better national decision-making, but colleges that tout their diversity recruitment make the same argument. They claim that all students benefit from having minority students who supposedly inject their valuable perspectives into class on campus. If there are, for example, “black” perspectives on history or sociology that won’t be voiced unless a class has a “critical mass” of black students, it’s hard to see why the same considerations don’t justify efforts at enrolling more veterans.
The fact that veterans are not sought after by elite colleges and universities, I believe, betrays the lack of seriousness behind their claims to desire diversity.
Having veterans in the student body would do more to increase the representation of different perspectives on the world than do the quotas that many top schools have for selected racial minority groups. Most black and Hispanic students who are admitted because they’re “diverse” are in fact hardly any different from the rest of the students. Despite their ancestors (possibly) having suffered due to slavery or other governmental policies, those kids are as mainstream America as are their white and Asian peers.
Vets, on the other hand, often come from relatively poor backgrounds where independence is a key virtue. They’re apt to see America through different lenses than the typical college student (especially the importance of the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms) and they have actually worked in “diverse” environments and have a more realistic idea about how different people can cooperate to achieve goals. But prestigious schools don’t seek them out, much less establish quotas for their admission.
I’m not saying that they should. Veterans do very well with their skills whether they go to a community college or an elite university. What I am saying is that the indifference of the colleges—which constantly proclaim their commitment to diversity— toward veterans tells us that they’re not really interested in diversity at all.