To achieve diversity, UConn must look beyond group identities, towards variety of individual perspec
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 20:09
According to University of Connecticut officials, this year’s freshman class is the most diverse ever. The justification for this claim is that 27 percent of students are from minority groups. However, it is impossible to quantify how diverse the Class of 2017 really is simply by looking at which collective groups the students belong to. Diversity should be considered a measure of individual differences, not simply collective ones.
Diversity on a college campus is important, but not just so the school can look good on paper. The point of having a diverse school is to create an academic environment where different students can contribute in different, diverse ways. This is made possible by individual differences, which can relate to just about any individual characteristic. Every individual is different and can bring their own unique perspective to the UConn community. By admitting a diverse class of individuals, UConn is able to ensure students can contribute many different viewpoints, experiences and ways of thinking.
However, the key word in that last paragraph is “individuals.” It is individuals who think have different viewpoints and experiences. Collectives, including those defined as “minority groups,” do not think uniformly. Not every person who belongs to a certain collective group, whether that group is defined by race, ethnicity or something else, thinks the same way. Not everyone in the same collective group has the same experiences. Not everyone in the same collective group will bring the same viewpoints to a college campus.
In fact, assuming someone must automatically think a certain way and have certain experiences because they belong to a certain racial or ethnic group is downright racist. It is making assumptions about someone based on their race or ethnicity. Even when these assumptions are positive (which in this case they are) that does not justify believing them or make it any less offensive to do so. For example, the stereotype that all Asians are good at math certainly is a positive assumption, but is still clearly racist as well as untrue.
Even when we break down collective groups into smaller components, it is still not possible to view all members of the group as interchangeable when it comes to diversity. This does not become possible until we get to the smallest possible group size – the individual. True campus diversity means having a diverse incoming class of individuals, not a diverse incoming class of collectives.
Quantitatively measuring this kind of diversity is somewhat more difficult than just measuring how many students are in minority groups. However, it is possible to qualitatively measure individual diversity without using statistical methods. Rather than simply putting a number down on paper, UConn could give examples of individuals who bring diversity to the university and describe how they will do so.
By presenting diversity this way, it would force the university to ensure that its incoming class actually will bring a diverse set of perspectives and is not just one that will look good on paper. After all, this is the whole reason diversity is important.
If people really want a statistic to measure diversity, other universities could adopt the same system as UConn, and some neutral entity such as Princeton Review could rank how diverse the individuals at all universities are. If people want to know how the list was obtained, they could read the reports by the individual institutions.
This system is somewhat complicated and is far from perfect. However, at least by adopting it, colleges would be measuring diversity the right way. By doing that, it would be a significant improvement over the statistical methods now used. The diversity of the freshman class, and of the school as a whole, should not be defined by how many students belong to certain groups. It should be defined by who those individual students are, what they have done and what unique qualities they can bring to campus.