Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 8, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 8,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
The Lasting Legacy of Brown
University of South Carolina Upstate:
A Model of Excellence and Diversity
Fifty Years after Brown v. Board of Education: Reflections from an Activist-Administrator
Faculty Involvement
A Search for Deep Diversity in the Communication Classroom
Making Diversity News
The 1954 Brown Decision: Fueling the Torch of Liberation for Asian Pacific Americans
Brown v. Board’s Legacy and Contemporary Black Higher Education
Student Leaders Reflect on the Legacy of Brown
The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice: Education and Empowerment for an Engaged Citizenry
Diversity at Middlesex Community College
Books on Brown v. Board of Education

Student Leaders Reflect on the Legacy of Brown

By Sherwynn Umali, graduate student intern, AAC&U

As a recent college graduate and aspiring higher education administrator, I have begun to look critically at the dynamics of the undergraduate student body and its evolution since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. College and university mission statements and literature on the importance of campus diversity suggest that fifty years after the Brown decision, diversity is an enduring value of many institutions of higher education; I wonder if it is a value held by students. Does the fact that Brown delivered a devastating blow to segregation and racism still resonate with students today? I spoke with student leaders attending the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) to gain insight into their experiences and their perceptions of diversity and integration at UMCP, and to explore their understanding of the legacy of Brown.

Student Support of Diversity

Two students generously volunteered time from their busy schedules to meet with me.1 The first student was Denise, an African American senior majoring in computer science and Spanish. The second student was Chris, a white male in his junior year majoring in business finance. Both Denise and Chris hold leadership positions in student organizations. Both have completed some type of diversity training on campus and stated that diversity is a deeply held personal value.

Denise seemed to understand the Brown case and its significance in helping people of color gain access to educational equity and the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. With this knowledge, she was able to put her experiences regarding integration at UMCP into an historical perspective.

Chris had a very different upbringing but shared many similar college experiences with Denise. Because of his high level of involvement in campus activities, he felt that he had more experiences with diversity and integration than many of his peers. He stated, “I think a lot of students think they’ve experienced diversity because they fulfilled the diversity course requirement, but it’s so easy to fulfill it without learning anything about why diversity is important.” Chris recalled that it was not until he took an American studies course that he really learned about Brown and became interested in issues of civil rights, equality, and social change.

Both students found it interesting that despite their affiliation with diverse groups of people, their closest friends were those who looked like themselves. Denise believes that students self-
segregate “no matter how much diversity training and interaction with other races [they have] experienced.” Both Denise and Chris attribute their valuing of diversity to many factors. Most significantly, they have had the opportunity to get to know people of many different backgrounds. But they have also gained new knowledge of struggles for democracy from courses they have completed. Denise adds emphatically, “I think that it’s important to interact with diverse groups of people.”

The legacy of Brown goes beyond the colors of the faces that fill our classrooms. Institutions of higher education have an opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, to foster the knowledge and motivation to create social change.

Denise and Chris are the type of engaged students seen in some of the most popular research on how students succeed in college. I believe their commitment to social justice, equity, and diversity goes hand in hand with the goals and principals of academic excellence. In my own professional work, I plan to honor these students by serving as a change agent and advocate for diversity, democracy, and inclusion. Having a sense of the history of the struggle for social justice that Brown provides infuses that work with deeper meaning. By incorporating this history into what we do everyday, Denise, Chris, and all of our students can be empowered to carry on that struggle.


1 Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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