For college and university campuses, a decrease in minorities means a decrease in diversity. As an educator, I fear the general public does not fully appreciate how damaging a decrease in diversity can be to a student population, how essential an ingredient it is to higher education, and how referendums like the MCRI derail it.
Many are familiar with the arguments that connect affirmative action efforts to promoting equality of opportunity, which is central to a healthy democracy. Less well known is what affirmative action does for education.
To understand how it affects education, we can look to race conscious admissions practices. Simply put, without the ability to consider race in recruiting and admitting students, the student body will be less diverse. This will likely happen if the MCRI is passed, because the MCRI will take away the ability to ensure a diverse student body. And a less diverse student body limits the educational choices available to students, which manifests in two important ways.
Second, a less diverse student body is associated with reduced options in the curriculum. By contrast, as the racial diversity of a student body increases so do the numbers of courses and co-curricular opportunities that address issues of race and ethnicity. This addition to an undergraduate curriculum takes on many forms and most of them provide students with a chance to understand better what it means to be a member of a diverse society, particularly a multi-racial democracy.
Having these opportunities available on campus does not guarantee that students will actually take advantage of them. After all, educators can only hope that their guidance will steer students toward making wise choices. Nor will expanding choices steer students toward certain political leanings. Indeed, seeking greater racial diversity in higher education is not meant to produce specific ideological outcomes but to widen the range of educational opportunities that support democratic interests. Even those students who choose to resist or oppose these opportunities will at least become more aware of the level of concern regarding diversity, a topic that will be unavoidable during their life time.
Mitchell J. Chang is an Associate Professor at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, and the author of Compelling Interest: Examining the Evidence on Racial Dynamics in Colleges and Universities (Stanford University Press, 2003), cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2003 decision on Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld race conscious admissions practices at the University of Michigan.
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