Poll Confirms that Americans Want Diversity on Campuses

Most Americans say that college students need to know about
different kinds of people and how to get along with them. There also
seems to be a national consensus that colleges should have diverse
student bodies and faculties, as well as courses that focus on
diversity.

Those are the results of a new poll released by the Ford
Foundation’s Campus Diversity Initiative in an attempt to redirect the
national conversation on affirmative action.

The poll, conducted by DYG, Inc., found that a substantial majority
of Americans — 71 percent — think that diversity education does more
to bring society together than drive society apart. Additionally, 91
percent agree with the statement that “our society is multicultural and
the more we know about each other, the better we will get along.”

In a press conference announcing the poll results, Daniel
Yankelovich, who heads DYG, Inc., said that the public distinguishes
between diversity and affirmative action. Policies to achieve diversity
are seen as “a win-win situation” — everyone benefits. However,
affirmative action policies are considered “zero sum” — in which some
people benefit at the expense of others.

Two-thirds of the 2,011 poll respondents said that colleges and
universities should take explicit steps to ensure diversity in the
student body, and 75 percent said that such steps should be taken to
ensure diversity among faculty. Only 38 percent say that diversity is
used as an excuse to admit graduate students who wouldn’t otherwise be
qualified.

Additionally, the poll found that the word diversity means
different things to different people. Half of those polled said
diversity means differences in ethnicity, race, nationality, or
culture; 18 percent defined it as people with different thoughts and
ideas; 12 percent said it means different social status or economic and
education levels; and 8 percent said it means people of different
religious backgrounds. As such, about half of all those polled —
across all strata of income — said they lived in “diverse
neighborhoods.”

Between July 14 and August 4, there were 2,011 registered voters
interviewed from across the nation. The sample, according to DYG’s
report on the poll, was scientifically drawn and is representative of
all American voters — within the margin of error at plus or minus 2.2
percent.

Of those polled, 12 percent said they have a child currently
attending a higher education institution; 27 percent said they had
attended a postsecondary institution but did not have a degree; 25
percent said they were a college graduate; and 12 percent reported
holding a postgraduate degree.

The vast majority of those polled — 97 percent — agreed with the
sentence, “In the next generations, people will need to get along with
people who are not like them.” However, they are not convinced that
will happen: 58 percent think that America is growing apart, compared
to 33 percent who believe America is growing together.

The respondents were about evenly divided between those who believe
it is more important to teach about each others’ cultures, backgrounds,
and lifestyles and those who believe it more important to emphasize
teaching common American values. This was one question in which
significant differences appeared in the responses of African Americans,
Hispanics, and Whites. Sixty-five percent of African Americans and 60
percent of Hispanics agreed with the former statement; 41 percent of
Whites with the latter.

Even so, 69 percent of everyone agreed that “courses and campus
activities that emphasize diversity and diverse perspectives” have a
beneficial effect on the education of college students.

“This poll shows that, despite the heated public debate over
diversity, Americans are very clear in their views,” said Alison R.
Bernstein, a Ford Foundation vice president. “They support diversity in
higher education. They recognize that diversity is important to student
success. And they believe that diversity in education can help bring
the country together.”

University of Michigan President Lee C. Bollinger, whose
institution is fighting a court battle about its attempts to ensure a
diverse campus community (see Black Issues, December 25, 1997) said, “A
college education must address differences of racial, ethnic,
international, and geographic diversity. There are all kinds of
diversity, and it’s critical that our students come to terms with
differences.”

Michigan has a complicated admissions policy that aims to achieve a
very diverse, qualified student body. The policy factors in such things
as whether a student comes from a rural area or was an Olympic athlete,
as well as race and ethnicity.

The Center for Individual Rights was the force behind the Hopwood
case, in which the U.S. Fifth District Circuit declared that race may
not play a part in student admissions at the University of Texas-Austin
law school.

Because conservative courts have been disagreeing with the argument
that affirmative action is needed to redress past wrongs, the higher
education community has been emphasizing the educational benefits of
affirmative action policies — recast as diversity policies — for all
students.

“Higher education fulfills a need by creating spaces where people
from diverse backgrounds learn from and with one another,” said Carol
Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and
Universities. “Diversity challenges educators and students alike to
reexamine our most fundamental assumptions. Above all, diversity asks
us to address the links between education and a developed sense of
responsibility to one another.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Key Findings of the Ford Foundation Poll

* 66 percent of those polled “think colleges and universities
should take explicit steps to ensure diversity in the student body.”

* 75 percent “think colleges and universities should take explicit steps to ensure diversity among the faculty.”

* 87 percent supported “offering courses designed to help students
develop a balanced understanding and appreciation for their own and
other cultures.”

* 81 percent supported “offering courses designed to help students
understand bigotry and prejudice in the United States today and
historically, as well as its effects on individuals and society.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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