Another Breakthrough in “Diversity” Research

What would we do without educational research, and how did we manage when there was less of it? A new study I discussed on Monday, for example, informed us that organized students who master advanced subjects in high school do better in college than disorganized students who don’t.

The authors of today’s new study, to be published in Communication Education, “the flagship journal of the National Communication Association” and described in Inside Higher Ed, conducted focus groups with a small number of black students at two midwestern and one southwestern universities “that had experienced open racial tensions between black and white students.”

Studying those transcripts “using a concept called ‘relational dialectics,'” the authors found an internal “battle” between the black students’ “blackness and the perceived whiteness of their university,” and one student explained that he was reluctant to discuss in class “how a Toni Morrison novel resonated within the African-American community” because “he didn’t want to ‘perpetuate stereotypes’ or draw attention to himself ‘as a black man trying to explain a black writer to a white audience.'”

Another “intra-individual dialectical tension” was “a pull between the students’ past and their future…. They feared that individuals from their past would not understand their pursuit of education, and in some cases they felt like traitors.”

Black students at racially tense universities, in short, experienced racial tension.  Jake Simmons, one of the authors and a professor at Angelo State University, “said that these results were not particularly surprising to him.” I am not surprised, either, but I am also not surprised that neither the study’s authors nor IHE editors seem aware that the problems they see are a predictable result of the solutions they propose.

These stories, according to Prof. Simmons, demonstrate that “[w]hite administrators at predominantly white universities are failing their students.” He urges university leaders to “acknowledge these dialectical tensions,” create programs “that give voices to both black and white cultural perspectives,” and  “provide training for faculty on the need for and inclusion of diversity in their classes.” These problems, however, flow directly from the already overheated emphasis on and practice of “diversity” and will be exaggerated, not cured, by more of it.

“Diversity” is built on the premise that black students are different; that’s why other students need to be exposed to them. So It should come as no surprise that black students on “diversity”-emphasizing campuses feel different and resent the pressure on them to be spokesmen for their race. Creating special programs for them and teaching teachers how to “include” them with sensitivity will make things worse, not better.

Finally, the authors also seem oblivious to the fact that the “intra-individual dialectical tension” between past and future that they describe as a bug is actually a hopeful feature. College education should liberate students from their past, open doors to a wider world. No one who reads Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez’s beautiful memoir of both the pain and exhilaration of his educational journey out of his sheltered Hispanic family and neighborhood (he too was called a “traitor”), can believe that colleges should devise programs and counseling to keep students comfortably ensconced in their racial or ethnic communities.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

One thought on “Another Breakthrough in “Diversity” Research”

  1. I suspect that there are many problems with this research, but I’ll note one that stuck out immediately when I read the Procedures section of the paper. The authors did not have a random sample of black students. They filled up their focus groups by a “snowballing technique” which entailed finding a couple students who were interested in participating, who then found some more, and so on. That severely biases the groups in favor of students who wanted to talk about their “adjustment” problems. My guess is that no black students who were busy with their coursework and had no such problems to complain about were in the mix.

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