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Monday, August 27, 2012
The Real Effects of Diversity
How do we measure the benefits of diversity in the classroom? Affirmative action in higher education is a hot-button political topic. From a philosophical standpoint, each side has valid arguments. But what about the real effects of affirmative action policies? How do we evaluate them?

Generally, the abolition of affirmative action policies at the university level is followed by a quantifiable drop in student admission among certain racial groups, most notably African-American and Latino students. The reasons behind the declining numbers are always up for divisive political discussion, but the statistics themselves are clear.

For proponents of affirmative action, trends such as these are cause for concern. What are the unintended downsides to a lack of racial diversity in the educational environment? Do all non-white students need to be evaluated according to their race, as well as their scholastic aptitude? Why are students of color disproportionately affected by the absence of affirmative action policies?

If these statistics are food for thought, they certainly only paint half the picture. Sure, affirmative action appears to give a leg up to many non-white students. But how does the prohibition of affirmative negatively impact all students. A recent study may shed some light.

Over the past decade, several university professors have been collecting empirical data from over 6,500 students at 50 different law schools. The survey attacks two primary questions: 1) do students differ by race upon entering law school and 2) do any differences "contribute educational benefits to students, institutions, or society?" The answer, according to this study, is a resounding "yes".

The surveyed students reported that diversity in the classroom contributed to an overall broader world-view. The presence of students from a wide spectrum of social and cultural experiences forced all students to better evaluate people, situations and problems from different perspectives.

Even empirical studies are subject to criticism, but evaluations such as these may prove critical in enhancing a very divisive discussion on race and higher education. For an abbreviated article in the National Law Journal and link to the original study, click here: The National Law Journal .


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