The Wrong Kind of Diversity

While arguably recruiting students from different religious backgrounds might be a good way to promote interesting discussions—a “diversity of opinion”—on college campuses, diversity in college admissions is generally taken to mean racial diversity.

This is true unless one was affiliated with Northwest College, a community college in Powell, Wyoming. On February 5 Northwest President Paul Prestwich sent letters, on Northwest letterhead, to 1,002 Mormon teenagers to encourage them to apply to his school. Prestwich said:

As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am quite familiar with the advantages that Northwest College and Powell [Wyo.] have to offer LDS students in particular.

One of the many things I love about being President of Northwest College is my opportunity to interact with our wonderful students. They are such a great group! If you choose to attend Northwest College, I think you will find a welcoming environment that includes a strong network of LDS students.

Maybe that wasn’t such a great idea.

While Prestwich might be forgiven for attempting to increase diversity by targeting students of minority religions—Wyoming is 96 percent white, though 11 percent Mormon—his letter was very controversial. A Northwest student complained about the letter to the Wyoming office of the American Civil Liberties Union. Northwest professor Bob Becker told the Billings Gazette last week that it seemed troublesome that his college’s president, “doesn’t seem to understand that this was ethically questionable at best, and, at worst, illegal.”

Prestwich apologized for the Mormon letter, sort of, writing to campus Tuesday that: “Although none of our earlier mailings to LDS students received much attention, this time the effort has been the subject of criticism. To be blunt, we hit a nerve! I apologize for that.”

Religion will no longer be a specific focus of Northwest’s recruiting strategies. To help the school avoid a conflict over the use of public funds for the Mormon letters, friends of the college have donated $630 to reimburse the school for the mailing.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer