Diversity and Justice For All: Why Equal Opportunity for Higher Education Matters
Madhu Vulimiri is a research intern at Global Policy Solutions. She is studying Health Policy and Management at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and is originally from Morrisville, North Carolina. Madhu is passionate about reducing health disparities in underserved communities.
Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, concerning the constitutionality of the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) admissions policy. In a 7-1 majority opinion, the Court ruled to preserve the principle that universities may consider racial and ethnic diversity as one factor among many in a carefully crafted admissions policy.
I can speak from personal experience that diversity in the classroom enriches the dialogue and encourages people to think in ways they hadn’t considered before. In other words, who’s in the room matters. In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the majority opinion for the Court, reaffirmed that, “The attainment of a diverse student body…serves values beyond race alone, including enhanced classroom dialogue and the lessening of racial isolation and stereotypes.”
Inclusive admissions policies in higher education are critical to expanding opportunities for minority students who often face significant challenges before they ever consider taking the SAT. Despite research showing that over 90 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics aspire to go to college, the reality is that high school dropout rates are still significantly higher for African-American and Hispanic students.
Students of color often have fewer educational opportunities due to attending underfunded schools, having to work at demanding jobs while in school, or, worst of all, falling into the school-to-prison pipeline. By increasing access to higher education for minorities, colleges and universities can play a positive role in breaking the long-standing cycle of poverty in communities of color.
The Court’s ruling also sets an important standard for diversity in other sectors, such as business, government, and service professions. As a student of public health, I have seen the importance of having a diverse health care workforce that can communicate effectively with patients of different linguistic, cultural, or racial and ethnic backgrounds.
While we have made progress towards reducing discrimination through policy changes, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure equal opportunity to higher education. In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, colleges and universities, as well as, business, government and other institutions should recommit to fair and thoughtful ways of fostering diversity.