Increasing diversity remains a key priority at universities, especially in the wake of mass demonstrations in support of racial equality in 2020 following the death of George Floyd. Many universities are guided by the motivation that diversity enhances student learning, a rationale supported by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This approach, however, is a view preferred by white and not Black Americans, and it also aligns with better relative outcomes for white Americans, according to a paper published by Princeton University researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Across eight studies including 1,200 participants, the researchers looked at two different approaches to diversity: an “instrumental rationale,” which asserts that including minority perspectives provides educational benefits; and a “moral rationale,” which, often invoking a legacy of racial inequality, argues that people from all backgrounds deserve access to a quality education.
They found that both university admissions staff and parents of Black students expected Black students to be less happy and healthy and — to fare worse academically — at universities that used an instrumental approach to diversity. Graduation rates for Black students were lower the more that universities took such an approach.
The findings suggest that universities seeking more racially equitable outcomes should consider the motivations shaping their approach to diversity. Schools aiming for inclusion of all students may need to embrace alternative or more nuanced reasons for valuing diversity, rather than solely championing the benefits diversity can provide. This could include a more justice-centered approach to diversity.