Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, North Carolina, Public Health, Students

Holiday present for diversity

December 12, 2011

President Obama’s new guidelines

As I have said before in this blog and through numerous other venues, I am committed to help our School become a more diverse and inclusive organization. In public health, we aim to solve some of the biggest problems facing the planet. We cannot do that effectively without understanding the world’s people. If we are going to live up to our global name and heritage, we must reflect global diversity, in all forms, within our walls. Diversity is not only about numbers. It is also about excellence. Diversity is an asset that makes us stronger. As we discuss in report of our School’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, diversity includes race/ethnicity but also cultural background, country of origin, gender, age, socioeconomic status, physical and learning abilities, physical appearance, religion, political perspective, sexual identity, and veteran status.

In the aftermath of Supreme Court decisions for Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, most universities adopted the practice of not stating quantitative diversity goals in particular areas, such as race/ethnicity. That’s a problem, because we tend to emphasize what we measure. Without numbers, it is difficult to hold people accountable. Last week, The United States Department of Education (ED) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) (collectively, the Departments) issued a guidance document to explain how, consistent with existing law, postsecondary institutions can voluntarily consider race to further the compelling interest of achieving diversity. This is important, because now, under certain circumstances, universities seeking to become more diverse can consider race as a characteristic. The italicized sections below are from new guidance document issued last week by the Obama administration.

As the Supreme Court has recognized, the benefits of participating in diverse learning environments flow to an individual, his or her classmates, and the community as a whole. These benefits greatly contribute to the educational, economic, and civic life of this nation. These skills not only enhance academic progress, but also prepare students to succeed in the professional world. The skills students need for success in “today’s increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints.”

An institution may permissibly aim to achieve a critical mass of underrepresented students, as described in Section I(A)(1) above.

Race can be outcome determinative for some participants in some circumstances. But race cannot be given so much weight that applicants are defined primarily by their race and are largely accepted or rejected on that basis.

Postsecondary institutions may develop admissions procedures designed to achieve diversity.

I will talk with UNC’s excellent lawyers about how to interpret the guidance, but I am hopeful that we will have more freedom to use a variety of strategies to increase diversity and provide support to diverse students. The result should be more diverse students attending our School, graduating and having successful careers in public health. That’d be a great holiday gift to the world!

Check out what our School is doing to increase diversity.

Happy Monday, Barbara

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.