Your community connector

Achieving diversity requires Affirmative Action

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

Guest opinion by Denise Moss

Invoke the word “diversity” and you’ll get a reaction as varied as Peppino’s topping combinations. It’s a mantra, a boogeyman, a goal, a scourge. It’s the straw man for the far right, pointing its craggy finger at yet another reason our society is falling into decay. 

  • Film Festival thumbnail

For colleges, however, diversity is simply a way to bring students from different backgrounds together into shared learning experiences. It’s a way to help society break the cultural and ethnic barriers that keep us apart. The goal, rightly so, is for higher education to represent America’s melting pot.

As a college professor, I have been asked many times by administrators and peers how I honor student diversity. In truth, I only need to offer interesting topics and evoke subsequent thought and expression. What’s the easiest way to see success in these discussions, to see in-depth analysis and “light bulb” moments? Diversity in the classroom. It’s really as simple as that.

  • Carbondale Animal Hospital thumbnail

The more diverse my student population is, the more I witness valuable conversations, sharing of ideas, and, importantly, evolving friendships. My most successful semesters are those with the highest diversity in the classroom. Ethnic, racial, economic, age, gender, nationality … the more variety I have, the more learning takes place. Universities have long been aware of these benefits, hence four out of 10 use race as one of the factors for admittance.

Affirmative Action was started as an executive order by John F. Kennedy in 1961. It was aimed at government contractors needing to employ a more diverse workforce. In the 1970s, this ideal was used in college admissions, specifically in highly competitive private and public universities, such as Harvard and University of California at Berkeley, to counter a history of inequality.

  • Dave Taylor thumbnail

In 1996, California voters adopted Proposition 209 which states: The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

The result? According to NPR, “A quarter-century after California banned race-based admissions at public universities, school officials say they haven’t been able to meet their diversity and equity goals — despite more than a half billion dollars spent on outreach and alternative admissions standards. In an amicus brief sent to the Supreme Court in support of Harvard and UNC’s race-based admissions programs, University of California chancellors said that years of crafting alternative race-neutral policies have fallen short. ‘Yet despite its extensive efforts, UC struggles to enroll a student body that is sufficiently racially diverse to attain the educational benefits of diversity.’” 

  • KDNK thumbnail

Eight other states followed suit after California’s 1996 decision.

We live in bubbles. Our communities, our income levels, and our state’s education funding often control our opportunities. As a whole, poorer areas have lower educational outcomes and much less access to extracurricular activities that enhance college applications. It has long been known that low income families have children with lower test scores in reading and math. And while we can point fingers in a multitude of directions to explain this, the bottom line is that Affirmative Action in universities helps to overcome these disadvantages.

  • RJ PADDY thumbnail

In general, relying on K-12 public schools, especially in areas of poverty, to produce merit-based college applicants is a pipe dream. The benefits of admitting students who are less advantaged, but have extreme potential, serves us all. Those students become successful contributors to the workforce. As a society, we want assimilation from different walks of life. Education offers that common language. 

Justice Thomas took advantage of Affirmative Action then rolled the ladder up behind him. As stated by Freire, “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.” The answer is not to now turn our backs on the disparity in our country. We can’t pretend, as the court has, that we have somehow passed the mark for needing a balanced college acceptance formula. 

Instead, let’s look at the model in our own state. “CU strongly believes in the transformative power of education, and we are dedicated to reflecting the diversity of our great state, nation and world as we build pathways that provide opportunity for aspiring learners to fulfill their college aspirations … We are steadfast in our belief that a vibrant and inclusive community leads to a richer educational experience for all, contributes to a positive society, and prepares our graduates to excel in an increasingly interconnected and diverse world.” (Statement from President Saliman and CU Chancellors on the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Decision)

Tags: #Affirmative Action #Denise Moss #education #equity #fairness
▲Top ▲Top