Why invest in diversity?

The University of Alabama likes being the best. That desire is reflected in the first two sentences on the UA website, “As the state’s flagship university, The University of Alabama family has always focused on being the best. After all, we are The Capstone of Higher Education.”

But if we want to be the best in the coming decades, an investment in diversity is going to be necessary to keep the Capstone competitive.

Right now the University is working with the Strategic Planning Committee to steer the Capstone to where it will best succeed. The most discussed element of this committee is their Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion. After the We Are Done protests of Nov. 19, 2015, increased attention has been focused on how the administration will answer the “diversity question.”

The Capstone is currently roughly 75 percent white. I have had many conversations with white students who ask, “Why does diversity matter?” or “Why does anything need to change?” For these statements, I often have to hold in my drink to avoid doing a spit take. But after enough of these conversations, I’ve realized anecdotal answers just don’t get the job done. I can’t quote Maya Angelou and explain the value of different perspectives giving us a more fulfilling picture of life and change their minds. Instead, these individuals will give me blank stares and slight head nods saying, “Oh well, yeah. You’re right,” but clearly just wait for me to stop talking.

There are a million reasons why diversity matters for us as people to grow. I want to take a look at why investing in diversity is good for the business of running a university.

According to the Pew Research Center, as a nation, our public schools have been made up of majority-minorities since 2014. A “majority-minority” is a term to describe how whites now hold less than 51 percent of the public school population, and the majority is held by a collection of minorities – most notably the identities of black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander and the identity of being two races. The majority-minority is also only expected to grow, and it is predicted that whites will never solely be the majority race again.

So as a whole, we are becoming more diverse as an educated public, but what about diversity in the schoolhouses themselves? According to Pew, “In 2010, some 15.9 percent of whites attended a school where minorities made up at least half of all students. By comparison, more than three-quarters of Hispanics and blacks (and six-in-ten Asians) attended these “Majority-Minority” schools.” The numbers suggest a growing segregation of education, an interesting trend to examine 60 years after Brown v. Board. As more of the country becomes a “majority-minority,” the University will lose its competitive ability to recruit these rising diverse students.

We are currently missing the mark on fulfilling the goal of getting a diploma into students’ hands, as only roughly 65 percent of minority students who walk on campus freshman year here will graduate. While we may be recruiting them to come on to campus, we are not convincing them to finish their degree here. These are students who could be pushing forward our research, bringing new organizations to campus, and serving as keystones of the UA alumni network. Instead, they are being lost to colleges that are better meeting their needs as minority students.

If we do not take advantage of this critical time to address why The University of Alabama does not meet diverse students’ needs, this is a problem that will continue to affect this institution. We must try to stay the best in an increasingly diverse nation – most notably with the University’s outreach to Hispanic students, which makes up one of the fastest growing demographics in the United States, yet is only 3 percent of the Capstone’s population.

Diversity in the classroom has also been shown to make a better educational environment. According to the case study “Does Diversity make a Difference?” by the American Council on Education and the American Association of University Professors, in a nationwide survey of faculty, “Faculty members believed that in diverse classes, students are able to develop useful academic skills, such as willingness to examine one’s own perspective, exposure to a broader range of perspectives, leadership capacity, and critical thinking.”

So why do we need to invest in diversity? Because we want UA to be the best, and to do so, we need to recruit more minority students. If we do not respond to the rising tide of change and instead become a university made up solely of white students, we will become stagnant. I commend the Strategic Planning Committee for taking steps to improve the Capstone and taking this need seriously by dedicating their sole subcommittee to this effort. There are many institutions on campus, such as the Crossroads Community Center, that are working to make the University more of a home for all students, but they need more resources in order to make Alabama a competitive recruiter and retainer of diverse students.

Meghan Dorn is a senior majoring in political science and public relations. Her column runs biweekly.

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