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Columns: Promoting a National Conversation on Diversity in the Context of the Elections
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Making Diversity News

Promoting a National Conversation on Diversity in the Context of the Elections

A tremendous amount of media coverage this fall will center on the elections and their aftermath. With the nation preparing to elect a new president, one-third of the Senate and a new House of Representatives, plus governors, state legislators, mayors, and other officials from city councils to school boards, much of the public conversation will center on candidates and the platforms and proposals they offer.

Education is front and center in this year's elections. Americans consistently tell pollsters that it is the issue they care most about, or is among their top two or three issues. In response, candidates at all levels are working hard to convince voters that they will do more than their opponents to improve the quality of education, raise standards, make higher education more accessible, and much more.

This broad-based national conversation about education creates opportunities for those of us who care about and want to promote diversity. Among the specific topics being debated are affirmative action, scholarships and tuition aid, and various plans to make higher education more accessible to more people.

To raise these issues in the election, consider doing some or all of the following:

  • Go to town meetings or other forums, and ask candidates about their stance on affirmative action and other important issues.
  • Look at who is chosen to moderate debates, and urge those moderators to raise questions about diversity in higher education. Debate moderators are often journalists or civic leaders from groups such as the League of Women Voters. They will respond to emails or phone calls where you explain why an issue is important to the community.
  • If debates are scheduled to take place on your campus, get a ticket and position yourself to ask a question. If a candidate holds a view with which you disagree, and you cannot get inside, organize a demonstration outside in order to challenge the candidate's views. Alert media to your demonstration.
  • Look at candidates' websites and examine their positions on affirmative action and other key issues. Pose questions through the feedback mechanisms on their sites, and also post your views on sites like voter.com.
  • Write letters to the editor about candidates' positions on diversity in higher education and ask journalists to explore the implications of various candidates' stands. Explain how a certain proposal will affect your campus or the higher education community in your area, and why the issue matters to so many voters in your area.

Prepare messages that resonate with voters in your community. Messages such as, "diversity in higher education benefits all students," and "diversity will make our nation stronger and more competitive" are simple, straightforward and meaningful enough to be picked up in the press. Also prepare questions such as, "why don't you support efforts to make higher education accessible to more students?" and, "will you reverse your position if you are elected and find that these actions make the student bodies are our state's top universities much less diverse?"

Keep in mind that at no time should you speak as a representative of your college or university when you take these actions. Most colleges receive public money, and therefore do not want to alienate any candidate who may win public office. But, as an individual, you are free to ask questions and raise issues that matter to you and have serious implications for your community.

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Media Watch
News Clips


"We've all heard about the global economy and the global village. But what about global education? It's a question universities across the country have been trying to address for two decades, driven by the belief that in today's interconnected world, college graduates need a more international perspective. The University of Washington is no exception....Starting next month, 25 incoming UW freshman will be able to braid their degree interests together with the study of Chinese culture and language at the UW, a junior year abroad in Sichuan province and original research. Studies and research for this group will center on environmental challenges in Sichuan province and Washington state....The movement to internationalize the undergraduate curriculum gained the national spotlight this year when President Clinton issued a memorandum on international education policy. It called for the federal government and others to promote study abroad by a larger and more diverse group of American students." ("UW Looks to 'Internationalize' College Life," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7 August, 2000)

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"'Everybody has been schooled in thinking about disability in medical terms. We are trying to get them to think of it in cultural terms,' said Paul Longmore, a San Francisco State history professor and co-director of the summer institute [at San Francisco State University]....The National Endowment for the Humanities provided a $164,000 grant for the five-week summer institute at San Francisco State University to build a disability-studies curriculum for use on college campuses across the nation....Many campuses are starting to offer courses in disability studies, and faculty at the University of California at Berkeley are working now to establish an undergraduate degree." ("Scholars Take Fresh Look at Disability," San Francisco Chronicle, 7 August, 2000)

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"[W]hen it comes to students landing a job after getting a degree, an uptick in the number of marketable minority students literally can make the difference between whether job recruiters visit a college campus or not, administrators argue. University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor David Ward spelled out the situation in a speech he gave on the university's challenges two weeks ago. 'If 10 years from now, this institution is not more diverse than it currently is, the major international companies in this country will not recruit from here,' Ward said." ("Minority Recruiting a Big Test for Colleges," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 7 August, 2000).

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"In a highly unusual move, General Motors Corp. is supporting the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies against a challenge they face in federal court. Eliminating affirmative action, the company argues in a U.S. District Court brief, would deprive businesses of well-trained minority candidates and reduce campus diversity, said Harry J. Pearce, GM vice-chairman.... 'What we are doing is supporting the policy of the university that will encourage a very diverse student body that ultimately is to the advantage of America and American businesses,' said Pearce." ("GM Backs U-M in Admission Suit Fight," Detroit News, 18 July, 2000).

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"Young adults do care about a lot of things these days -- just not about politics. In 1972 -- the first year that 18-year olds were eligible to vote -- 50 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. But by 1996, only 32 percent of that age group voted, according to the Federal Elections Commission. During that same period, youth volunteerism in such areas as soup kitchens, homeless shelters and hospitals has risen dramatically, particularly in the past 10 years, recent surveys show. Experts and young adults themselves say the reason for this is simple: Youth see quicker results from volunteering than voting....A 1999 survey by the University of California-Los Angeles found that 74.2 percent of incoming freshmen had volunteered during their last year of high school. In 1989, only 62 percent had done so.... Liz Geyer, director of the Student of Color Campus Diversity Project and a recent graduate of UCLA, said young adults do not vote because their concerns are not addressed." ("More Young Adults Getting Involved With Volunteering, but Not in Voting," Chattanooga Times, 23 July, 2000).

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