The recent US Supreme Court decision disallowing admissions using race-based affirmative action has spawned a fairly consistent message of despair from college presidents and deans who have been trying to diversify their student bodies.
In general, when a nation’s top intellectuals stand against legislation, you have to ask yourself what the social implications of the legislation are.
After decades of studies that have shown how important diversity is in the organisational workplace and how biased tertiary education systems have been in admitting a similar profile of socially advantaged group, which propagates a cycle of privilege (legacy students for example), it is overwhelmingly understood that diversity will not happen spontaneously by itself, it needs to be engineered.
An interesting experiment in the early 1970s by Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling showed that human beings naturally seek to identify with people similar to themselves, unconsciously creating patterns of segregation. If that tendency is disrupted intentionally, a more diverse environment is created, which tends to yield more productivity and creativity. However, the natural tendency towards segregation has to be disrupted.
Initial efforts at affirmative action go back to the 1960s Civil Rights movement. They were part of a normative vision for a more equitable world, immortalised in Martin Luther King’s soaring “I Have a Dream” speech. At the deepest level, diversity is needed for a more peaceful world. How sad to see that vision blocked by the shadow of regression, taking us backwards.
Educators have to keep fighting for diversity, not through superficial or politicised rhetoric but actions: broadening assessment, diversifying staffing and decolonising the curriculum, otherwise we won’t be heading to 2024 but to 1954.