A college is a democracy of ideas—a democracy embracing all members of the campus community. Students, faculty, and administrators all have the right to be heard and the responsibility to put forward informed opinions, and all must be prepared to be challenged.
Diversity is a key component of this institutional ethos. We learn through encountering different ideas, beliefs, and cultures, and by seeing how our own stand up to others. What we think we know is constantly expanded and transformed by exposure to radically different ways of seeing the world. This does not mean that we should descend into mindless relativism; on the contrary, all ideas must be tested so that they can be held wisely and reflectively. Our beliefs are transformed by what we discover in our classrooms, our laboratories, our libraries, and everywhere we meet and talk to one another. Our passions are mobilized in these encounters, even as we seek to maintain a high ratio of light to heat in our discussions.
Engaging with difference in a spirit of curiosity, integrity, and courage is about transcending one's own parochialism and narrowness. It is also basic to the academic freedom that defines the intellectual life of great academic institutions.
At Barnard, the respect for different points of view, tempered by a commitment to common standards of inquiry and debate, is fundamental to the curriculum. This is especially obvious in some of the College's general education requirements, or "ways of knowing"—notably, "Reason and Value,” "Cultures in Comparison," and "Social Analysis." But, in fact, cultural breadth and a diversity of perspectives permeate the various disciplines and majors.
The cultural vibrancy of the residential liberal arts college experience at Barnard is reflected in the diversity of our students, who bring to the campus a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. In seeking to provide support for all of our students, we are especially mindful of those who come from groups that have not, in the past, been strongly represented at highly selective colleges. A commitment to equity and justice dictates such concern.
But the college experience is not only about comfort and support. It is also about the kind of discomfort and challenge that is essential to growth and to learning. The very benefits of a Barnard education would be lost if our students limited their experience to others too much like themselves. The process of dealing with difference can be an uncomfortable one, fraught with misunderstandings, mistakes, and fears of rejection. There is no short-cut that allows us to avoid this process; there is no way around, only through. But the rewards of getting to the other side are great indeed.
The kind of diversity we pursue at Barnard is intrinsic to the kind of women we take pride in graduating from this institution: women possessed of a discerning intelligence, a cosmopolitan perspective, and moral courage; women who will go out into the world and make it a better place.
–Committee on Diversity, December 2004