Diversity in Higher Education: How Can We Really Achieve It?

Diversity within higher education is a hot topic in today’s times, especially following the recent BLM movement and riots in response to nationwide police brutality. Higher ed as a whole serves to push students in all aspects of life, by immersing them in a world of academia while surrounding them with a multitude of different people, cultures, and opinions. In my opinion, college is a time for personal growth, a time to develop the skills necessary to become a prominent and productive citizen throughout adulthood. Therefore, it is vital that we live and learn in a diverse community in order to better understand how the world around us works. But how can true institutional diversity be achieved? For years, many people argued that attending college is a “white man’s privilege”, and I do not always disagree. The University of Alabama itself does not have a full history of inclusion. However, UA now has students from all of the US hailing from many different cultures and backgrounds. 

One main issue that has been pinpointed as “exclusive” in higher education is the usage of ACT/SAT scores as an admissions factor. Historically, higher test scores directly correlate to higher family income and race. Therefore, the University of California just recently announced that it would stop using test scores as an admissions factor in an effort to promote diversity on campus by including students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in the incoming freshman classes. I understand that standardized tests are important in leveling the playing field for students applying to colleges. However, coming from a very low-income public school in Alabama, I have seen the impact that a low socioeconomic status has on student performance, especially on standardized tests. In a recent Washington Post article, reporter Valerie Strauss states that “eliminating those tests as admissions requirements doesn’t come close, by itself, to achieving a truly diverse college campus.” To prove her point, Strauss linked an article by Osamudia James, law professor at the University of Miami, focusing on the connection between standardized tests and diversity and the overall importance of diversity within higher education.

Does the discontinued use of test scores help in promoting diversity on college campuses? Yes, but first, diversity needs to be redefined. Colleges and universities over and over again attempt to showcase diversity, as it is a selling factor and keeps them out of lawsuits and legal trouble. James states that “universities sloppily edit black students into photos for promotional materials to hide the fact that black students are underrepresented on campus.” This type of corporatized promotion of people of color is extremely superficial and will not suffice if increasing the number of diverse students on a college campus is the end goal. Having a diverse body of students is vital to the success of a university so that students are exposed to all walks of life and have a more concrete understanding of how the world operates. Racism has previously controlled American politics and society as a whole, so it is necessary that today’s students break these ties in order to promote a more inclusive and progressive nation. 

By having a tighter grasp on the concept of diversity and how it is not just about race representation, those making the decisions in higher ed need to pay attention to factors past the admissions process: who gets resources, positions on campus, job opportunities, and more. No university will ever say that they are against inclusion, but James brings up an interesting point that “what good is diversity on the college greens if colleges partner with police that unjustifiably level violence against the communities from which students of color hail?” A change must be made in all aspects of higher education because all people involved have a voice that deserves to be heard. I appreciate the University of California’s effort to eliminate one potential factor promoting racial disparity, but in agreement with Dr. James, this is only one small step. This decision formally breaks down an obstacle to inclusivity within higher education but does not battle all of the exclusive barriers already deeply rooted within university culture. It will be interesting to see the impact of the University of California’s admissions decision on the rest of higher education and whether or not this will begin a movement to dismantle racism elsewhere on college campuses.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/06/11/how-achieve-real-diversity-higher-education/

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