Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Case For Diversity

“colleges have the opportunity to affect change in students’ attitudes through student peers, faculty influence, and structured education programs.” (29)

Diversity in general and affirmative action in particular benefits all whom attend the university as, “many studies indicate the importance of having diverse peers in the learning environment for important outcomes, such as improvements in students’ ability to engage in more complex thinking about problems and to consider multiple perspectives, and improvements in intergroup relations and understanding.” (v) Having peers from different cultural backgrounds enhances the academic experience for all those who participate in campus dialogue.

Although diversity as a positive attribute for higher education seems like a widespread belief there still lacks a substantial amount of research that proves the point. “Proponents herald the various outcomes of diversity—from retention to academic achievement to improved learning outcomes for students—yet limited evidence is available to explain why diversity in general, and racial or ethnic diversity in particular, enhances students’ experiences and meets institutional goals. Although many individuals can anecdotally attest to the impact, this response often does not satisfy skeptical policy makers, administrators, faculty, or students.” (ix) Therefore it is imperative that those seeking to diversify their campus do so on a comprehensive level and conduct research with both quantitative data as well as qualitative results.

Unfortunately schools looking to prioritize diversity do not do so on a comprehensive level. “Most campuses tend to focus on only one element of the climate—the goal of increasing the numbers of racial/ethnic students on campus. Although it is an important area for institutional effort, the framework reinforces the notion that other elements of the climate also require attention…” (3) A simple band- aid solution will not suffice, and students, faculty, and administrators need to be on board. Researchers have found that success often depends on an institution’s initial response to the entrance of diverse students and its early establishment of programs to accommodate them;” (9)

It is essential that schools understand that the problem of racial conflict is a result of contextual discourse as well as systemic institutional change. “Systems must be organized to advance the interests and respond to the needs of students rather than the preferences of the institutions created to meet those needs….. Systems of higher education must take a more comprehensive approach to desegregation and issues of equity in education, which involves promoting ‘the principle that each sector of education is linked to the others” (13)

And what is striking is that higher education, for some, may be the first opportunity to sit beside someone from a different race. If we are to consider college to be the beacon of higher education we must acknowledge how important this experience is to the individual as well as the overall institution. “Increasing segregation in high schools in various communities in this country, however, indicates that college may be the first opportunity for students to encounter and interact with someone from a different race or ethnicity.” (16) Changes at the college level are not enough. Students should be aware of how they can gain access as early as freshman year in high school.

Let us note that diversity if not a sprinkling of people of color but a systemic change with different parts, aimed at creating racial and social harmony. “Tokenism contributes to heightened visibility of the underrepresented group, exaggeration of differences among groups, and the distortion of individuals’ images to fit existing stereotypes (Kanter 1977).” (p. 19)

Diversity in faculty has a positive effect not only on students of color but white students as well. “Moreover, attaining a diverse student body and hiring diverse faculty result in significantly more opportunities for all students to learn how to deal with others from different cultural backgrounds after college.” (19)

In creating diversity it is important to get feedback not only from the majority population but minorities as well. Different groups may perceive racial conflict differently and it is a democratic obligation to include all voices. “One study found, for example, that 68 percent of white students thought their university was generally supportive of minority students, while only 28 percent of the African American and Chicano students thought so (Loo and Rolison 1986).” (25) “These findings show that institutional attention to reports of discrimination and perceptions of hostility on campus is paramount to providing a welcoming and satisfying undergraduate experience. Introducing mechanisms for students to report and seek redress for these experiences is also important, but campuses must be aware that many aspects of the psychological dimension of the climate go unreported.” (27)

One way for schools to help address diversity is training for administrators “studies called for increased training in cultural sensitivity for administrators and underscore the importance of ensuring that campus policies treat all groups fairly.” (27)

Proponents of affirmative action have a sense of entitlement that breeds racial conflict and notions of racial inferiority. “Some researchers believe that whites’ opposition to busing or affirmative action programs and policies is better explained through an understanding of group conflict theory holds that some individuals oppose these programs because they threaten the social status of whites. In short, white individuals view these policies as a ‘threat to their lifestyles, as well as other valued resources and accepted practices.” (33)

It is important, especially for students who are brainwashed in a homogeneous racial group to get outside of their comfort zone and talk/listen to people from different backgrounds. “Contacts that facilitate the reduction of prejudice are those that cause people to do things together. Although the effects of contact cannot always overcome the effects of personal characteristics in prejudice, contact could lessen prejudice if any of three of the following conditions are met: (1) equal status contacts occur between majority and minority groups in pursuit of common goals; (2) the effect is greatly enhanced if contact is sanctioned by institutional support; and (3) the contact is of the sort that leads to a perception of common interests and common humanity among members of the groups.” (34) College can facilitate these dialogues for some whom have never engaged, intellectually, with different racial groups.

With regard to diversity “qualitative analyses reveal three primary findings. First, students appeared to have mastered a number of critical thinking skills. Second, levels of ethnocentrism among students appeared to have declined. Third, students were consistently able to distinguish between poverty and ethnicity as developmental risk factors.” (49) Diversity is good for critical thinking skills and high order thinking.

College curriculums have a responsibility to teach students the history, politics, economy, psychology and other academic disciplines with regard different racial groups. Classes on African, Latin American, Asian, and Native American peoples is essential for students to put their preconceived notions into perspective. “For race and ethnic relations to improve, we need not only one more friendship among students, but also more knowledge about the economics, politics, and sociology of race relations, and more group projects to encourage people to work together across ethnic lines.” (51)

And it is important to understand that the attention paid to different racial groups is not decisive in design but rather created to provide support to students whom struggle socially and academically. “Although some suggest that racial/ethnic student organizations and minority programs contribute to segregation on campus, a series of studies refutes this perspective. Studies have empirically demonstrated that students who join such racial/ethnic student organizations join them because they enhance identity and that such increased comfort with one’s identity may lead to a greater interest in cultural and cross-cultural activities.” (54)

With regard to government and policies involving education states of which prioritize diversity “should put into place a formal institutional planning and reporting process, regularly disseminate the information to the public about opportunities in higher education for minority students, and report progress in meeting the needs of minority students.” (59)

Studies have  also shown that “investing in student financial aid may be the most profitable investment the federal government can make with its funds.” (66)

“Unless the goal of creating a diverse learning environment is viewed as an integral component and necessary to achieve academic excellence, the goal will be considered separate or antithetical, thus inclining the campus community to devalue diversity.” (71)

Universities must also “document the historical legacy of exclusion of various groups as well as the continuous barriers faced by specific groups in admissions, hiring, and retention.” (71)

Schools, in an effort to establish diversity should: create self assessments, evaluation programs, affirmative action, hire faculty of color, community service opportunities, faculty/student interaction, student centered instruction.

Schools with exemplary diversity programs and institutional policies

·       Arizona State University
·       Carnegie Mellon University
·       UCLA
·       University of Michigan
·       Vanderbilt University
·       Ohio State University
·       University of North Carolina
·       University of Washington
·       University of Wisconsin

Hurtado, Sylvia, Jeffrey Milem, Alma Clayton-Pederson, and Walter Allen. 1999. Enacting Diverse Learning Environments: Improving the Climate for Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Volume 26, No. 8. Washington D.C. The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

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