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Floridians See Many Benefits to Diversity in College Education

By overwhelming numbers, voters in Florida said in a statewide poll released in April by the Ford Foundation Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI) that diversity education can help bring together a society they fear is growing apart.

Nearly seven in ten Florida voters say it is very important that colleges prepare graduates to get along in a diverse society. Fifty-eight percent think every college graduate should have to study cultures different from their own. By a margin of three to one, those who have an opinion say that diversity programs in colleges and universities raise rather than lower academic standards.

The statewide Florida poll was conducted by DYG, Inc. in collaboration with the eleven colleges and universities in the Central and South Florida Higher Education Diversity Coalition. The Coalition, coordinated by Barry University in Miami, is also participating in AAC&U’s Racial Legacies and Learning Initiative. For information on their project and a listing of coalition schools, see DiversityWeb (http://www.diversityweb.org). For this poll, six hundred registered voters were surveyed in February and March of 1998. The poll’s margin of error is 4.1 percent. Fifty-seven percent of respondents self-identified as “very conservative” or “more conservative than liberal.”

“The main finding of this study is that the vast majority of Florida voters support diversity education in general, and the numerous specific programs which fall under that heading,” said pollster Madelyn Hochstein, President of DYG, Inc. Hochstein noted “amazing similarities” in the views of Florida and Washington state voters on diversity.

Reaction

“I’m particularly pleased that we have such a positive outcome, such strong support and encouragement for the benefits diversity can bring,” said Florida International University President Modesto Maidique. “People are alarmed by growing divisions in our society and recognize that, in the long term, diversity education can promote unity and help heal those divisions,” said Edgar Beckham, who coordinates the CDI for the Ford Foundation.

“Our classrooms are laboratories for cultural diversity and the disciplines are enriched when students contribute various cultural perspectives,” said Miami-Dade Community College President Eduardo J. Padron. “The poll shows that in many ways higher education is seen as the last best hope for diversity working and we need to be very, very aggressive and creative in the way we educate our students,” said Monsignor Franklyn Casale, St. Thomas University President.

Additional Poll Results

  • More than nine in ten Floridians agree that, “in the next generations, people will need to get along with people who are not like them.”

  • Respondents say that diversity education does more to bring society together (74 percent) than drive society apart (17 percent).

  • Clear majorities say that having a diverse student body has a more positive (76 percent) than negative (18 percent) effect on the education of students.

  • Seven in ten (71 percent) say that courses and campus activities emphasizing diversity have more of a positive than negative effect on the education of college students. Eight-three percent of self-described liberals and two-thirds of self-described conservatives (66 percent) agree.

  • Seventy-three percent agree that “a lot of important information about various cultures in the United States has been overlooked by college faculty in the past.”

Affirming these views of Florida voters, University of Miami President, Edward T. Foote II suggests that “The diversity that exists on our campus leads to tremendous learning opportunities for all of our students and will make them better citizens in the future.” The CDI will conduct a national poll of public views on diversity in higher education this Fall and the results are scheduled for release October 6, 1998. Watch DiversityWeb for results.


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