Guest Opinions

Our history shows diversity as strength

Mike Wetherell
Mike Wetherell

“Diversity” is getting a lot of coverage lately. Depending on who is discussing “diversity,” it is either lauded or condemned. The current discussion focuses on immigration and minorities.

The Founding Fathers were keenly interested in immigration issues, as well. One of the reasons listed in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 for the colonies declaring their independence is this specific complaint about the actions of the British King:

“…He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Land…”

The current argument about the diversity issue at Boise State University sent me to the dictionary. Since a college was involved, I thought it appropriate to use the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Copyrighted in 2000.

“Diverse” is simply defined as “…differing from one another.”

“Diversity” is defined as “…the condition of being diverse.”

The diverse arguments about diversity seem to be as follows: One side argues that being different from one another is a good thing, which over our history has made us stronger as a nation, and we should encourage diversity as part of the college experience. Our strength is in our shared values, “the American Creed” as it is often called, not where we originally came from, the color of our skin or arrival date in the United States.

The other side argues that colleges should endeavor to use education to make us more alike. Diverse groups should not be encouraged to be “diverse” because that tends to weaken us and to promote “segregation” not inclusion.

The use of the term “segregation” injects a highly toxic term into the discussion. The term is generally used to describe methods of disadvantaging minority groups rather than well-intentioned efforts to encourage them in an educational setting.

The same is true of attacking Boise State’s efforts to provide opportunity scholarships to “illegal aliens.” Once again toxic terminology is used to sell a point of view (or perhaps promote fundraising).

The “illegal aliens” or “illegal immigrants” we are talking about are the so-called DACA (Dreamers) children brought into the United States as children when a parent or parents entered the United States illegally. A large majority of Americans, including those in both political parties, support efforts to help these individuals.

Helping disadvantaged individuals is a deeply ingrained trait in Idahoans and Americans. Within a few blocks around our state Capitol are numerous churches; St. Michael’s, St. John’s, Emmanuel Lutheran, Capitol City Christian, First Presbyterian, First Church of Christ Scientist, Methodist Cathedral of the Rockies, True Hope Baptist Church and St. Paul’s Baptist Church.

Over my 42 years in Boise I have attended services in several of these churches. Without exception, they welcomed those who attend who are not members. At funerals, weddings and religious holidays, they explain the services to those who are new to the church. They all provide in various ways for those less fortunate.

In eastern Idaho, I well remember when I was on Sen. Frank Church’s presidential campaign and the Teton Dam burst, suspending the campaign and returning immediately to Idaho. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened its warehouse and helped to provide food, shelter and support for anyone in need regardless of their religion, national origin or color.

We saw diversity make us stronger yet again in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3, 2019, when an individual filled with racial hate killed 22 people and injured numerous others in a shooting rampage.

When the word went out that more blood was needed to help the wounded, hundreds of El Paso residents stood in line to fill the need. None asked the color, race or national origin of those needing blood.

Later, when a man who lost his wife of 22 years who had no other relatives in El Paso invited people to his wife’s funeral, so he would not be the only one to mourn her, thousands of people from around our nation, the world and El Paso sent flowers, and hundreds attended his wife’s funeral.

Examples of how diversity built and strengthens Idaho and America are too numerous to mention. There is a reason for that famous statement on the Great Seal of the United States: E PLURIBUS UNUM. It means “Out of Many, One.” It doesn’t say “from the many we will all become the same” (it also doesn’t say, “out of many Europeans, one.”)

Certainly, we have not and will not always live up to our ideals, but we must continue to strive to do so. Our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence wanted to welcome to our new country foreigners to be naturalized. They said it clearly. America is diverse; if it was not, very few of us would be here today.

Mike Wetherell served on the Boise City Council for 17 years and as a District Court Judge in Idaho for 12 years. He was the administrative assistant to Sen. Frank Church and a former Democratic state party chairman. His family has been in Idaho since 1909, and he is a member of the Idaho Statesman editorial board.
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