Just How Important Is Diversity? Funding to Close the Achievement Gap Must Occur No Matter the Fluctuations in the Economy or Swing of the Political Pendulum

Article excerpt

With education funding increasingly imperiled, campuses are asking, "How important is diversity?" While framed as a resources question, it's also a political one: Do we value diversity enough to fund it? In tight fiscal times? Toward what ends?

While the presence of and support given to a chief diversity officer (CDO) is key in assessing the importance attributed to diversity on campus, this position is also superfluous to the importance question. Campuses will continue to debate various aspects of the CDO role, but an institution that lacks the political will to change its racial demographics with well-funded and otherwise aggressive recruitment, admissions, hiring and retention programs will either fail at diversity altogether or move it forward in superficial ways. That is, an institution that fails to effectively address equity concerns relegates diversity work to celebratory event programming and the CDO to a figurehead.

In the post-Brown resegregating education landscape, funds allocated to public education in high-minority areas are so predictably less than those allocated in predominantly White ones that we take the disparity for granted. PK-12 district lines have been strategically (re)drawn relative to community racial and economic geography to preclude busing and funding across them. Race and class shouldn't matter in ways that perpetuate the achievement gap but in ways that seek to eradicate it and to realize diversity through fierce fidelity to equity.

Such fidelity requires us to recognize that not only have students in high-minority, low-income schools incurred a minority penalty, students in low-minority, middle-to-high-income schools have enjoyed a White bonus. While educational equity efforts geared for students in the former circumstances evoke cries of "reverse discrimination," the pre-existing and persistent cumulative educational advantages that have accrued and continue to accrue to students in the latter circumstances go unacknowledged.

Because of PK-12 resource imbalances, some minority students need additional services when they get to college. As a result, institutions with higher minority enrollments should be equitably funded--they should accrue a diversity bonus. Just the perception of a minority penalty discourages White students from attending institutions with high-minority student populations. But a diversity bonus could have the opposite effect on these students, at the same time providing added incentive to institutions with lower minority populations to increase their minority recruitment and retention efforts. Borrowing from education professor Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, by reframing the achievement gap as the education debt, repaying the debt will help dose the gap.

It would be derelict to suggest that closing this gap even with unlimited resources would be easy. …