Achieving diversity: Is reform enough?

Diversity in higher education used to refer almost solely to the race and ethnicity of students. Now, the term diversity also encompasses gender and economic issues and communities including immigrant, LGBT and disability groups. And the role of diversity on campuses--and how and whether institutions can legally cultivate it--is once again at the forefront of campus conversations as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a landmark case that considers the constitutionality of affirmative action in admissions. The Fisher case again tests whether the 14th amendment's equal protection clause protects certain kinds of affirmative action considerations in admissions decisions. The equal protection clause has been central in a number of significant cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education (which struck down "separate but equal" educational facilities and ordered they be integrated), Lovings v. Virginia (which overturned the ban on interracial marriage), and the current issues surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Propostion 8 (a voter initiative giving marriage rights only to opposite-sex couples).

However--and perhaps surprisingly--some progressive academics and activists challenge the assumption that integrating mainstream institutions, such as marriage or universities, is a desirable outcome in and of itself. Does that kind of legal integration undermine the effort to fundamentally transform the institutions? Unless university culture and its practices in the treatment of all students is profoundly changed, can the outcome of increased diversity be anything other than disappointing? A superficial, top-down integration may simply yield the same results as the integration of public schools--such as increased private school enrollment, higher attrition rates for students of color, and Native students who do not feel adequately supported by the institutional culture of universities.

In an upcoming live AACRAO webinar, Andrew Jolivette, Associate Professor and Department Chair in American Indian Studies at San Francisco State, explores the critical intersections of multiracial identity, socio-economics, race, gender, and immigration on campuses. In his presentation, Jolivette asks how we meet the needs of our changing student demographics not just by providing more access, but by fundamentally changing the culture of our institutions themselves.

Over the past 25 years there have been major changes in the population demographics of the United States. These shifting demographics are perhaps best exemplified by the election and subsequent re-election of President Barack Obama, the nation's first biracial, African-American President. As the U.S. electorate has changed, so too are the college student demographics titling toward a new American majority--one that may not be adequately served by the institutions as they now exist.

Perspectives such as Jolivette's are grounded in critical mixed race theory, which urges activists to focus more specifically on transforming social institutions, not simply reforming them. (The theory is called "mixed race" to invoke the experience of many mixed-race persons, who come from multiple backgrounds and often must become "fluent" in various cultures, creating the capacity to listen to other people and communities without assuming to know another person's experience.)

AACRAO will feature Professor Jolivette in a webinar reviewing the tapestry of complex issues surrounding diversity.

The LIVE and free webinar session, Obama and the Biracial Factor: What's Critical about ˜Critical Mass?' Exploring Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education, will be held on June 26th at 2pm. This presentation explores the critical intersections of multiracial identity, socio-economics, race, gender, and immigration issues in our society. The webinar presentation also asks participants to consider how we meet the needs of our changing student demographics not just by providing more access, but by changing institutional culture.