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Demographics & Diversity in Higher Education

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Back to Demographics & Diversity

To appropriately cover demographics and diversity in higher education, it’s important to first understand some of the background on this topic.

Race-conscious admissions

How and if colleges should factor race — and more specifically, race as it speaks to educational inequity — into their admissions processes is a perennial debate.

Barbara Grutter sued the University of Michigan in the early 2000’s, arguing she was rejected from its law school because of admissions policies that gave an edge to racial minorities. That litigation reached the Supreme Court in 2003, which held admissions that consider race are not unconstitutional as long as they also weigh other factors. That same day, the Supreme Court ruled that Michigan’s points-based system which did favor underrepresented minority groups in undergraduate admissions was unconstitutional.

Abigail Fisher, a white woman, famously sued the University of Texas at Austin for denying her admission to its undergraduate class in 2008. Her claim that she was rejected solely because of favoritism toward less accomplished non-whites — which is a debatable — culminated in two Supreme Court cases which eventually upheld that UT’s admissions policies survived strict scrutiny and could remain in place.

This topic took center stage most recently through the affirmative action lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard University, alleging that the institution’s policies unfairly discriminated against Asian-American students who otherwise met the admissions criteria.

Check out coverage from Boston Globe, New York Times, NPR, The Atlantic, Washington Post, among many others.

Story idea: Students for Fair Admissions has filed an appeal, which now has backing from the Justice Department. It seems likely this will continue onto the Supreme Court. Can you use this as a launching pad to explore admissions policies in your coverage area? How, if at all, do they weigh demographic differences? Has the Harvard case–and the national scrutiny around that–compelled schools to examine or change their own policies?

Racism and race relations

Racism is a daily reality for many students. College leaders try to engender welcoming environments for people of all backgrounds, but many students are met with exclusion and isolation, or worse, bigotry that escalates into threats and violence.

Many of the country’s oldest institutions were built through slave labor — something more schools are trying to publicly acknowledge. Some only began integrating to admit people of color within the last several decades. For some students, that history continues to manifest today as not-so-subtle reminders they are still the “other.”

For the New York Times, Julie Bosman, Emily Shetler and Natalie Yahr wrote about what happened after the University of Wisconsin at Madison released a promotional video that almost exclusively featured white students.

Story idea: Part of the broader issue of “safe spaces” on campus is students carving out territory–physical or otherwise–to congregate with students with similar backgrounds. Think about what that looks like on a campus. Many have a Hillel House for Jewish students, a Black Student Union, a multicultural center. University of Chicago has an International House. University of Southern California has Special Interest Communities.

But sometimes these spaces can cause controversy. Or confusion about for whom they exist. Consider this example of a University of Virginia student displeased with white students frequenting the campus’ multicultural center: “

There’s the whole university for a lot of y’all to be at, and there’s very few spaces for us, so keep that in mind.”

That’s an oft-repeated sentiment: the feeling of not feeling welcome, of not belonging and wanting one place dedicated just “for us.”.

Also consider whether institutions provide equitable support for groups and organizations that support minority students of minority groups. That’s an intriguing question posed in this piece from Rishika Dugyala, who dug into the challenges for students in multicultural Greek organizations at Northwestern University.