Diverse in Race, Diverse in Thought

Colleges aren’t sacrificing intellectual diversity by focusing on racial diversity. They are helping to create it.

Sarah John, Contributing Writer

Racial diversity is often applauded as beneficial. Colleges love to display students of color on their admissions material and proudly state their growing diversity every year. But with all the attention on racial diversity, some argue that universities are wasting time, energy and, most importantly, funding in their rush to create more inclusive classrooms. Or, as this article by the Carolina Journal states, people believe the campaign to create racial diversity is happening at the expense of something else — intellectual diversity.  The author in this case also believes that it is a waste of university resources, stating that “given the natural richness of American society,” creating racial diversity does not require “the kind of extensive administrative engineering currently practiced by university leaders.” So the question is this: Does America need to work to create racial diversity or can we count on our “natural richness?” Above that, is the racial diversity colleges strive for just a poor substitute for the real aim of a college campus — intellectual diversity, particularly diversity of political thought?

To answer this question, we first must address the idea that universities don’t need to implement programs to achieve racial diversity. This is false. We already know that if universities want racially diverse classrooms, they have to seek them out. Simply look at what happened when the University of California at Los Angeles, in 1996, only looked at factors like SAT scores — which are heavily correlated with income — to select well-rounded, diverse applicants. The university’s enrollment of black and Latino students fell until it reached an alarming low in 2006. UCLA had just 96 black students in a class of 5,000. That’s 1.9 percent. Unsurprisingly, race-blind admissions, like most systems in the United States, tend to produce disproportionately bleak results for people of color.

So it’s safe to say that no, our “natural richness” will not lead to racially diverse classrooms. This fact leads us to the second idea shared by many leaders in the discussion of racial diversity in college, and the real heart of the argument: Is pursuing racial diversity really benefiting the students’ learning process at universities? Or should colleges instead just re-allocate these resources to creating political, and therefore intellectual, diversity for students?

To answer this question, we first have to understand one key fact — racial diversity creates intellectual diversity. Yes, of course, we all have heard that racial diversity is beneficial and allows minority students to share their experiences, but it’s more than that. What’s less widely known is that racial diversity is essential because it actually restructures academic environments to encourage more innovative thought, even on topics not involving race. According to McKinsey, a consulting firm, “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Or we can look at this Forbes article, which cites a study of “approximately 600 business decisions made by 200 different business teams in a wide variety of companies over two years,” to find that teams with varied, age, gender and geographic location make better business decisions up to 87 percent of the time.

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Racial diversity is not just liberal snowflakes demanding spaces where they personally can be more comfortable. It instead creates a kind of learning environment that allows all students to access the best quality of education available. Does this mean that diverse political thought isn’t as important? Of course not. But let’s not make racial diversity the scapegoat in the debate here. Racial diversity encourages complex thought in our universities just as intellectual diversity aims to. Not only that, it also reduces prejudice and facilitates tolerance, a benefit we ought not to overlook. Colleges should pursue intellectual diversity in all forms, including the political and racial. But if they choose to put racial diversity at the forefront, they have good reason to do so.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. 

Email Sarah John at [email protected]

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