in higher education: Why it matters
By Anne Bromley
the vitality of a democracy depends on the informed participation
of its citizens, universities have an obligation to familiarize
their students with the aspects of diversity reflected in our
society, according to the guest speakers who opened U.Va.'s conference
on diversity Feb. 18. William E. Kirwan, president of Ohio
State University, and Sylvia Hurtado, associate professor of education
at the University of Michigan, talked about why diversity matters
and how it furthers the mission of higher education.
who was president of the University of Maryland when its program
of race-based scholarships was successfully challenged in court
and had to be disbanded, spoke about the economic, social and
educational values of ensuring a diverse population, as well as
an institution's moral imperative to eradicate prejudice. Michigan
is also facing a legal challenge for using race among admissions
factors, and Hurtado described research being done at Michigan
that aims to show the benefits and educational value of diversity.
"I still believe the continuing effects of racism are the
most important reason" for continuing affirmative action
programs on college campuses and in society, said Kirwan. The
argument used against Maryland's Banneker scholarships, however,
and affirmed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, holds that society
has reached the point where race and gender shouldn't be considered.
is ample evidence that prejudice and inequity still are problems,
according to Kirwan. For example, salary inequities for minorities
and women can still be found at most universities. But he also
argued that if universities are to prepare students for citizenship
and professional careers, they must take into account the increasingly
diverse population and internationalization that students will
encounter in their work lives.
moral imperative is matched by economic and social needs,"
Kirwan said. Hispanic and Asian-American populations are expanding
10 times faster than white populations and the African- American
population is growing five times faster. Students of all ethnic
backgrounds need to learn how to work together effectively. More
people will need a college education for the jobs of the future,
and more of those students will be from other than white groups.
By 2010, half of the jobs will require a college education, which
means universities will need to educate 30 percent or more minority
students to have enough people for those jobs, he said.
To defend its admissions policies, the University of Michigan
is seeking to prove that creating a diverse environment benefits
all students. Researchers have examined a broad database of students
nationally and at Michigan from longitudinal studies spanning
30 to 40 years, Hurtado said. They are finding that exposing students
to new and unfamiliar people and ideas teaches them deeper, more
complex thinking because they cannot rely on their usual ideas
"The best faculty know this, that you turn the tables on
student expectations to get them to learn new things," Hurtado
said. Through creating a more diverse population on campus, in
the classroom and by providing more opportunities for interaction
in informal settings beyond the classroom, universities produce
students who are more likely to find commonality despite differences
and are more likely to live and work in diverse environments.
we're going to survive as a democracy, we're going to have to
find ways to understand each other better," said Hurtado,
whose current research focuses on preparing college students for
a diverse democracy. Helping students confront misunderstandings
and controversies in the classroom is a good opportunity for them
to learn how to work things out, she said.
looking at minority law students at Michigan over almost 30 years
supports other recent national research that minority students
who attended the most selective institutions were not only successful
students, but went on to lead successful lives.
also referred the audience to Michigan's web site devoted to information
about the lawsuits and the research regarding diversity, http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/index.html
a minority student in college, Hurtado, who is Chicana, emphasized
what an important learning experience it was for her. "One
discovers who one is in the context of difference," she said.
Both she and Kirwan stressed that students and faculty must be
provided opportunities for interacting in mixed groups to help
break down the tendency toward self-segregation. Such programs
can't be imposed, Kirwan said, but require collaboration.