U. hosts conference on diversity in higher education, Tilghman moderates
University President Shirley Tilghman moderated a panel on higher education institutions’ practices of promoting and valuing diversity in the makeup of their faculty and student body Thursday morning.
The panel, titled “Promoting Success in Diverse Environments,” was part of a daylong summit, “Diversity on Campus: Practices, Policies and Culture.”
“It’s the quintessential question: Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” said Beverly Daniel Tatum, a scholar of race relations and the president of Spelman College, a historically black college.
Tatum explained her opinion that affirming the identities of minority groups on campus is essential to building a united campus community.
“If the groups are aggregating along lines of affinity, then does that mean we’re not extracting the value of diversity? I would say it doesn’t mean that necessarily,” she said.
She continued by noting that the value of diversity is not being extracted if students solely form groups around lines of affinity, such as demographic similarities.
“If we think about the university as a photograph, when you enter this space you’re looking for yourself in it. If you don’t see yourself, you’re wondering what’s wrong with that picture,” Tatum explained. “If people on the edges get left out of the picture, they’re not going to ever want to participate in the group activity. You only want to participate in the group activity if you’re certainly confident that you’re going to be included in the picture in a positive way.”
David Thomas, the dean and chair of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, said colleges should make it a priority to create a level playing field for students from high schools of varying quality.
Colleges are often guilty of allowing “unearned privilege to create a false differentiation of talent,” Thomas said. He explained that students who come from lower-class socioeconomic backgrounds are disadvantaged compared to their peers.
“I think if we can get our hands around that, and figure out how we can fairly take that into consideration and talk about it, we can do a lot, I think, to create what, by the time a student graduates, will demonstrate that they’ve had a level playing field,” he said.
Tilghman seconded Thomas’ opinion, noting that family income is the best predictor of SAT scores.
Tilghman also cited the opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the 2003 ruling Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld affirmative action. O’Connor wrote “extremely compellingly and movingly about that value [of diversity in education],” Tilghman said.
Princeton has supported affirmative action in prior Supreme Court cases and is supporting the University of Texas in the affirmative action case currently before the court.
Shelley Correll, a sociology professor at Stanford University who studies gender inequality in education and the workforce, explained that much discrimination that exists in both academia and the working world today exists under the guise of what she has named “benevolent sexism.” In many cases of discrimination today, employers believe they are being benevolent toward female employees, by, for example, “not asking a woman if she wants to be promoted because they assume that she wants to stay home with her children.”
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