For the Sake of Student and Faculty ‘Diversity’

By on April 20, 2005

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an
article today (account required to access)
that discusses the importance of racial and ethnic diversity in higher
education. While I personally agree that such diversity, along with other forms
of diversity, is important and plays a significant role in shaping the
educational experience of all members of the academic community, I am troubled
by the emphasis on minority ethnic and racial status as the only factors
for what becomes a superficial diversification of student and faculty bodies. The
article reports:

[Princeton
University President]
Tilghman warned that colleges would suffer if they did not get more minority
students to earn doctorates and go on to teach.

“If we do not diversify our
faculty, we will look increasingly anachronistic,” she said. “Who wants to be
part of something that looks like it is basically behind the times?”

Why is the emphasis simply on “looking” like you’re not “behind
the times”? If this statement reflects the mindset of most administrators
today, it really demonstrates how ethnic and racial diversity has transformed
into an “in” thing to do rather one part of an in-depth plan for improving
higher education experiences. Such tokenistic, ineffective, and somewhat
insulting reasoning for “diversification” undermines the more complex,
thoughtful, and genuine efforts to include more voices from diverse
backgrounds. If these administrators really want to increase diversity and
enrollment of minority students, they should not assume that, as indicated by
academic performance, minority students don’t have the “maturity” to face
graduate school, or are not capable of “handling” the work in math, science, or
any other field. They need to look beneath the surface.

So many other factors that impact student undergraduate
experiences go largely ignored because people simply use grades and academic
performance as the main indicators of “success” or “achievement.” It might be
the “culture of silence” (perhaps reinforced by
a speech code laden with “nondiscrimination”
rhetoric) that prevents students from feeling like they can speak out against the status quo and have a
real voice on campus. It might be the enormous pressure they face as the first
of their families to ever attend college or graduate school. It might be social
influences from peers or engagement in extracurricular and community service
activities that they prioritize over earning high marks. Or maybe the students
don’t enjoy their educational experience at college because they sense they are
being paternalistically tokenized by campus administrators!

Administrators therefore need to be looking deeper into the
issue and not make student and faculty “diversity” a self-serving tool for
proving to others that they are “with the times.” Such efforts in the name of
being trendy cannot be a long-term solution to any problem.

Schools: Princeton University