Education and Affirmative Action

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.

2 thoughts on “Education and Affirmative Action”

  1. Top-down engineering to create diverse teams is one part of the answer, but ultimately it’s the shorter-term answer. In the medium- and long-term the best hope lies in engineering within each educated soul a preference for seeking the opportunities and enrichment that come from not only accepting but embracing across difference.

  2. I am interested in your cross-cultural take on this and any research you may have come across which compares systems whether within higher Ed, education or the work place. Many other countries and systems work differently (for better and/or often for worse).
    Have you come across interesting research on this?
    I have seen “Higher Education Admissions and Practices”.
    Beyond the lack of equity populations face accessing higher education and careers, this brings the question of cultural intelligence and it being embedded in education.

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