A Transformative Model for Diversity in Higher Education

By Berman, Karen L. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, September 6, 2018 | Go to article overview

A Transformative Model for Diversity in Higher Education


Berman, Karen L., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Affirmative action. The mere mention of those words in the college admissions process evokes heated debates that often overshadow the true value of diversity that policies are meant to achieve. Diversity is more than a social virtue; diverse organizations are robust breeding grounds of innovation, technological advancement, and the creation of intellectual capital.

In 2013, a Harvard Business Review study showed firms with management teams that have both inherent diversity--traits one is born with such as ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation--and acquired diversity--traits gained from experience--are 45 percent more likely to report market share growth over the previous year and 70 percent likelier to report that the firm captured a new market. Google "benefits of diversity in the workplace" and your search will return a myriad of articles published in the last 3 years by nearly every major business publication providing data supporting similar results.

The benefits of diversity in higher education are equally studied and touted. Research from a wide spectrum of institutions including the Gates Foundation, Carnegie Mellon and Harvard University demonstrate links between academic achievement and diversity. Exposure to new ideas, new cultures and people from different backgrounds promotes creative thinking, expands academic discourse, enhances self-awareness and better prepares students for a global economy.

To be fair, the issue is often not why diversity, but how to achieve it. Since the Supreme Court's 1978 landmark decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke stipulating that race could be one of several factors in college admissions, public debate has been unending. Some opponents of race-based affirmative action deem the policy "reverse discrimination," while others argue that, today, affirmative action should be based on income as socioeconomic achievement gaps are now larger than racial ones.

How can the prioritization of diversity in university settings become a real practice and a unifying force, and not a political football? Israel--and, in particular, one Israeli university--may have an answer.

One might assume that, in Israel, a country that often makes headlines for political and religious tension, diversity would be even more controversial than it is in the US. But that assumption ignores the integral role diversity plays in Israeli society. Though it is known as the "Jewish state," Israel is home to many thriving minority populations, including Christians, Muslims, Bedouins, Circassians and Druze. In a region where ethnic and religious minorities, as well as women and LGBTQ individuals, are often persecuted, Israel is a beacon of tolerance and multiculturalism. …

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