New Research Complicates Discussions of Campus Diversity—in a Good Way


In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled during Grutter v. Bollinger in favor of the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action argument that race-conscious admissions was justified by the educational benefits the diversity provided their students. New research on campus diversity, which goes beyond admissions to provide colleges with insight on how to structure their policies to maximize educational benefits for minority students, has sparked a national dialogue of divergent perspectives on this topic, which are featured in today’s article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Following are excerpts from the article:

Jeffrey F. Milem, a professor of higher education at the University of Arizona, is quoted in the article: “You can’t just bring together a group of racially diverse people and assume that there will be benefits that come from that. That is an important first step, but it cannot be the only step colleges take.” Daryl G. Smith, a professor of education and psychology at Claremont Graduate University, agrees. She states that, “The conditions under which you bring people together matter.” Smith also says that many of the new studies “reveal key differences in how various racial and ethnic groups interact and show how colleges’ policies influence whether—and what—students learn from one another.”

James Sidanius, a professor of psychology and of African and African-American studies at Harvard University, acknowledges in his book, The Diversity Challenge: Social Identity and Intergroup Relations on the College Campus, that a long-term study of about 2,000 students at UCLA failed to confirm his belief that the university’s diversity and efforts to promote multiculturalism had a profound effect on students’ attitudes toward members of other racial and ethnic groups. In fact, some black students’ grades had suffered from their belief that they were admitted through race-conscious admissions policies, but also that involvement in racially or ethnically oriented campus groups appeared to hurt students’ ability to relate to peers from other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Rather than being challenged by advocates for minority students, the study has been praised by several as solid.

Ms. Darrell Smith, of the Claremont Graduate University, says, “The issue in this research should not be to demonstrate that we want diversity or don’t want diversity. The issue today should be: How do we go about building a healthy democracy in our institutions, building pluralistic communities that work?”


The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 31, 2010
New Research Complicates Discussions of Campus Diversity—in a Good Way
By Peter Schmidt

A new wave of research on campus diversity holds the promise of improving how colleges serve students of different hues. On the fundamental question of whether racial and ethnic diversity produces educational benefits, the latest studies’ bottom line is: Sometimes. With the right mix of students. If handled delicately.

The increased nuance and complexity of the recent research is seen as a byproduct of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger ruling, in which a slim majority accepted the University of Michigan Law School’s argument that the educational benefits arising from campus diversity justified the use of race-conscious admissions.

In putting to rest courtroom debates over the constitutionality of such policies, the Grutter decision left proponents of affirmative action feeling freer to study—and publicly acknowledge—shortcomings in colleges’ efforts to promote diversity. Colleges have interpreted the ruling as requiring them to demonstrate how race-conscious admissions policies advance their missions. That, in turn, has created demand for research on the nuts and bolts of using diversity to improve education.

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