Caroline Breshears writes for the Martin Center about higher education’s focus on “inequity.”

The fight for “equity” in higher education is a story-driven project.

As the Annie E. Casey Foundation explains, “To illuminate racism, we need to ‘name it, frame it and explain it.’” This process is essential because “a common language creates a narrative that makes it easier to communicate the commitment to racial equity…and creates a platform for coordinated work toward equitable outcomes.”

The “narrative” is essential because stories shape our values and vision of the world. As Jonathan Gottschall explains in The Storytelling Animal, whether they concern historical or religious or completely fictional characters, stories encourage us to do the right thing, to make a difference. Reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for instance, reputedly inspired many to fight against slavery in the American Civil War.

Yet taking stories as a guide to the world can be equally problematic, as Miguel de Cervantes portrays in Don Quixote. His protagonist goes “mad” from reading books of chivalry, which shape his perceptions of reality and give him a sense of purpose.

Imitating his heroes, Don Quixote becomes a knight errant to fight oppression and demonstrate his virtues.

Or so he thinks. …

… Don Quixote’s errors foreshadow those of today’s knights errant: the “equity practitioners” for whom a new narrative of “inequity” has given purpose. Like Don Quixote, they see oppression everywhere, especially within higher education. And like Cervantes’s knight errant, they are determined to destroy the supposed villains.

Yet their narrative of “inequity” distorts history and the reality of its supposed victims.

In attacking higher education, they charge imaginary giants. And if they succeed in their goal—equal outcomes for all groups—they will only mangle the institutions that benefit us all. To resist, we must understand not only “equity” but its practitioners’ path toward achieving results in the inevitable way of all social planners: force.