For the Sake of Student and Faculty ‘Diversity’
April 20, 2005
by Minnie Quach
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.