Achieving the “Demographic Imperative”: Barriers and Possibilities for Diversifying Teacher Education at UD

Jill Ewing Flynn, Assistant Professor of English Education, University of Delaware

Jill Ewing Flynn,
Assistant Professor of English Education,
University of Delaware

Our guest blogger today is Jill Ewing Flynn, Assistant Professor of English Education at the University of Delaware.  She writes on behalf of the Collaborative to Diversify Teacher Education at UD.   The mission of the Collaborative is to cultivate teacher candidates from groups historically underrepresented in terms of access to and successful completion of teacher education programs.  The Collaborative consists of faculty members from across the University community that seek to recruit and prepare teacher candidates who better match the demographics of students in Delaware public schools and nationwide, with a focus on race/ethnicity and social class. Other members of the Collaborative from the College of Arts and Sciences include Deborah A. Bieler, Associate Professor, English Education; Hannah Kim, Assistant Professor, Social Studies Education; from the College of Education and Human Development, Lynn Worden, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies; and from the School of Education, Rosalie Rolón-Dow, Associate Professor, Social Studies Education/Urban Education; and Carol Wong, Associate Professor.

“I appreciate that the kids, they can automatically be like, ‘Okay, somebody looks like me.’ I may not be able to do anything for them, but, right off the bat, they may sense some sort of empathy.”

“In the classes that we have, you have these little blips about minorities. You can learn about them from a book, which kind of bothers me, honestly. You can’t learn about kids from a book, people from a book.”

“I don’t think that ignoring differences is good, either. You’re black, or you’re German, or you’re whatever you are. Me saying, ‘I don’t see color,’ that is absolutely—pardon my French—bullsh*t.  That’s absolutely ridiculous because it exists, and stuff happened.”

These comments were made by University of Delaware undergraduate teacher education majors in focus groups made up of students of color, first-generation college students, and students from low-income backgrounds. As these students noted, recruiting and preparing a diverse teaching force benefits all teacher candidates as well as the students they serve, from Pre-Kindergarten to high school. Their comments also highlight a palpable problem in so many teacher education programs: the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity.

The nationwide problem that some scholars call the “demographic imperative” encompasses three related issues in teacher education: “1) the increasing diversity of the students enrolled in U.S. public education; 2) the gap between such students and their teachers in terms of their lived experiences; and 3) the disparity in educational outcomes between students of color, low-income students, and their white middle-class peers” (McDonald, 2007, p. 2049). Across the U.S., colleges and universities are working not only to increase the diversity of their student population and to increase the educational outcomes of students from underrepresented groups, but also to reap the benefits of a diverse student population[1].

For programs that prepare future teachers, the benefits of diversity take on heightened importance, given teachers’ direct role in shaping the perceptions and abilities of future generations. Teacher preparation programs that include diverse student and faculty populations and embrace diversity systemically can help narrow the achievement gap (Irvine, 2003; National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, 2004) and develop a teaching force that advocates for equity and works in partnership with members of the diverse communities in which they practice (Cochran-Smith, 2004). With the generous support of a 2012 President’s Diversity Initiative grant, the Collaborative to Diversify Teacher Education at UD, a diverse group of teacher education faculty from across the UD community, has been studying how these challenges manifest themselves on our campus and what can be done to overcome them.

As is true nationwide, the University of Delaware’s teacher candidates tend to be white. In our undergraduate programs, where the majority of our students earn teaching certification, approximately 21% of the UD students enrolled in teacher education programs in Fall 2012 were of a “minority” status (11% were first generation college students, 8.5% were racial minorities, and 5.1% were low-income; note that students may belong to more than one category).[2] In contrast, the 2012-2013 Delaware public school student population is 32% African American, 13.8% Latino/Hispanic, and 3.5% Asian, while 52% of Delaware’s public school children are students from low-income households (See Figure 1.)[3]

Figure 1: Percentage of Students of Color and Low-Income Students in UD Teacher Education and in Delaware Public Schools

Narrowing the demographic gap between the students we prepare and the public school students they teach is the Collaborative’s major goal.

What we did.  We designed and implemented a research project during the 2012-2013 academic year utilizing a mixed-methods approach (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004) in order to triangulate data (Denzin, 1978; Mathison, 1988) about how our teacher education programs consider diversity and how underrepresented students perceive or experience diversity. Our project included four data sources. We conducted interviews with the ten faculty members who coordinate our teacher education programs. In addition, we collected data from three student focus groups: two of current teacher education majors, and one of former teacher education majors. We also invited more than the more than 4000 UD undergraduate students from underrepresented groups—students of color, first generation college students, and/or low income students—to participate in an online survey. Six hundred and twenty-six students completed the survey, including 102 (16.5%) current teacher education students. Finally, we analyzed institutional data on enrollment and graduation rates since 2006.

What we found. The findings of our public scholarship project parallel and build on other published research. The data revealed that the graduation gap between low-income and non low-income teacher education students was twice that of the overall University of Delaware student population (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Graduation Rates of Low-Income and Not Low-Income Students at UDDeterrents to Teaching.  All data sources indicated that a major deterrent was a negative view of the teaching profession; for example 47% of survey responses indicated such a view. The second major deterrent was money. Salaries were the principal concern: the second most frequent reason cited by survey participants for not going into teaching was “salary too low” (43%). Participants expressed concern that the effort necessary to be a teacher as compared to the salary—the return on investment (ROI)—was not worth it.

Deterrents to progress in the major. Additional financial barriers included tuition and program fees. More than 70% of survey respondents identified tuition and housing costs as extremely to moderately challenging. Students who left teacher education reported that student loan forgiveness for going into teaching and scholarships for teacher education majors might have helped keep them in the major. Teacher education fees were rated even more of a barrier than certification test scores or grade point average requirements. Furthermore, when we analyzed results by subgroup, those with family income at or below the poverty line perceived teacher education fees as being more challenging to their degree progress. Combined with the low graduation rate of low-income students discussed earlier, we see that the additional costs of teacher education programs are a serious issue that needs attention.

While the majority of students did not identify a lack of academic support as a barrier to their degree progress, a question about resources on campus yielded surprising results. The survey asked how familiar students were with various support/enrichment programs and services available at UD. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3: Percentage of Students Who Were Not at All, Slightly or Moderately Familiar with UD Programs and ResourcesMore than 90% of current or former teacher education students were at best minimally or not at all familiar with programs like McNair Scholars or Student Support Services. Even the organization that specifically targets teacher education students, ASPIRE, was not fully recognized, with 79.2% of current or former teacher education students being moderately, slightly, or not at all familiar with the program. All of these resources and programs are operating on UD’s campus and serve as potential supports to students from underrepresented groups; however, clearly they need to be better publicized and utilized.

UD’s racial environment.  Fifty percent of program coordinators expressed concern about the homogeneity of students and staff in teacher education programs. In focus groups, students of color questioned whether the university valued their presence and expressed the feeling that they were merely a token. Students of color, particularly Latino and Asian students more than other teacher education students, were more likely to say that their teacher education program never strengthened their sense of racial/ethnic identity. African American students were more likely to say they felt the need to minimize an aspect of their culture in order to fit in. African American students were also more likely to say that they felt they were expected to speak on behalf of all members of their race/ethnic group, that they felt left out because of their race/ethnicity, and that they witnessed their race being stereotyped. These results are similar to those reported from a broader survey on UD’s racial climate: “White students more frequently expected and found the campus climate to be welcoming for all people and groups than students of color” (UD Campus Climate Survey Results, Report to the President, 2011, p. 4). A number of issues related to campus climate at the University need to be addressed in order to better recruit and retain diverse teacher candidates.

Way forward. Findings of our research suggest that (1) advocating for the teaching profession as a whole, (2) centrally coordinating and supporting outreach and support efforts, and (3) improving the campus climate are essential steps in addressing the demographic imperative at the University of Delaware. As teacher educators, we need to market our profession as a dynamic career centered on social justice and giving back to the community to help address goal #1. We also need to speak out publicly to counteract the negative public discourse around education. To achieve goal #2, the University can coordinate and promote the student support services already on campus. It is also important to provide financial and staff support for outreach and leadership development programs such as ASPIRE, the Academic Support Program Inspiring Renaissance Educators. As another important facet of student support, we must pay closer attention to the financial burdens of teacher education majors, exploring options for eliminating or subsidizing program fees, establishing scholarships for students underrepresented in teacher education, and work with the Delaware Department of Education to develop loan forgiveness programs for Delaware teachers. To improve the racial campus climate, goal #3, the University needs to facilitate culturally responsive teaching and increase the diversity of our student body and faculty. UD’s “Commitment to Delawareans” and recent increased outreach efforts by the Admissions Office are important first steps toward this goal. To diversify our faculty, deans and chairs can mandate that searches be framed in ways that require a commitment to diversity and equity in addition to teaching and research expertise.

Creating thriving, diverse teacher preparation programs is not only a valid end in and of itself but also an investment in a robust educational ecology: strong collegiate teacher candidates from underrepresented groups go on to become strong teachers who will educate thousands of P-12 students from underrepresented groups, who will then become strong college applicants. The Collaborative to Diversify Teacher Education at UD looks forward to using the public scholarship framework in partnership with the University as a whole to address these issues.  If you would like to read the full report, please click here.  Questions and comments can be directed to Jill Ewing Flynn at


Cochran-Smith, M. (2004). Walking the Road: Race, Diversity, and Social Justice in Teacher Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Colbeck, C.L., & Michael, P.W. (2006). The public scholarship: Reintegrating Boyer’s four domains. New Directions for Institutional Research, 129, 7-19.

Daye, C., Panter, A.T., Allen, W. & Wightman, A. (2012). Does race matter in educational diversity? A legal and empirical analysis. Rutgers Race and the Law. Retrieved from

Denzin, N. (1978). The Research Act: A Theoretical Introduction to Sociological Methods. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ellison, J., & Eatman, T.K. (2008). Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University. Syracuse, NY: Imagining America. Retrieved from

Gurin, P., Nagda, B. A. and Lopez, G. E. (2004). The benefits of diversity in education for democratic citizenship. Journal of Social Issues, 60(1), 17-34.

Henry, W.J., Fowler, S.R., & West, N.M. (2011). Campus climate: An assessment of student perceptions in a college of education. Urban Education, 46(4), 389-718.

Irvine, J.J. (2003). Educating Teachers for Diversity: Seeing with a Cultural Eye. New York: Teachers College Press.

Johnson, R.B. & Onwuegbuzie, A.J. (2004). Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14-26.

Mathison, S. (1988). Why triangulate? Educational Researcher, 17(2), 13-17.

McDonald, M. (2007). The joint enterprise of social justice teacher education. Teachers College Record, 109(8), 2047-2081.

National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force. (2004). Assessment of Diversity in America’s Teaching Force. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Park, J.J., Denson, N., & Bowman, N.A. (2013). Does socioeconomic diversity make a racial difference? Examining the effects of racial and socioeconomic diversity on the campus climate for diversity. American Educational Research Journal, 50(3), 466-496.

UD Campus Climate Survey (2011). Retrieved from:

[1] Both qualitative and quantitative research have demonstrated clear educational benefits of diversity on the student body, including reducing prejudiced attitudes (Daye, Panter, Allen, & Wightman, 2012), deepening learning experiences and developing more nuanced notions of individual and group identities (Henry, Fowler, & West, 2011), and more actively participating in society as democratic citizens (Gurin, Nagda, & Lopez, 2004). In fact, both ethnic and socioeconomic diversity have recently been identified as essential ingredients in favorable campus climates (Park, Denson, & Bowman, 2013).

[2] Data from Spring 2012 enrollment figures (provided by Barbara VanDornick in the Delaware Center for Teacher Education).


Perils and Prospects of Disclosing Disability Identity in Higher Education

Margaret Price, Associate Professor of English, Spelman College

Margaret Price
Associate Professor of English
Spelman College

Stephanie Kerschbaum, Assistant Professor of English, University of Delaware

Stephanie Kerschbaum
Assistant Professor of English
University of Delaware

Our guest bloggers are the organizers of the Disability Disclosure In/And Higher Education Conference sponsored by the Center for the Study of Diversity and held October 25-27, 2013.  Their post provides their account of the issues they confronted in organizing and implementing the conference, ways in which it broke new ground and ways in which it fell short of some of their goals.  The complexities of disclosing one’s disability in a higher education environment are addressed and ways to ameliorate some of the problems disclosure entails are discussed.

What does it mean to “disclose” a disability? This is a question relevant at all levels of university life. Students with disabilities must discuss their accommodations with their professors, with fellow students, and with disability services offices; disabled faculty and staff members must figure out how to arrange accommodations, although they may not be sure whom to approach or if it’s even safe to do so, due to concerns about how they may be perceived as a consequence of disclosing a disability. Our ongoing research on disability and disclosure has revealed that the process of disclosing a disability in a higher-education setting is multi-layered, often risky and generally not well-understood. In October, 2013 we joined nearly 100 other scholars and activists to explore these issues and more at the Disability Disclosure in/and Higher Education Conference sponsored by the Center for the Study of Diversity and held at UD’s Clayton Hall.

Exploring disability disclosure helps clarify some of the misunderstandings that persist where disability is concerned. For example, in January 2012, the American Association of University Professors issued a report titled “Accommodating Faculty Members Who Have Disabilities.” The report states at one point, “Unless a disability and the limitations it creates are obvious, the institution may need information about the nature and extent of the disability” (4). The implication here is that disclosure is not necessary when a disability is “obvious.” However, our research as well as our personal experiences as disabled faculty members have indicated to us exactly the opposite: even if a disability is readily noticeable by others (as is the case with Stephanie’s deafness) there almost always remain significant gaps in understanding that affect access, accommodation, and social interaction. People may not be used to making sure Stephanie can see them while they are speaking, or they may unwittingly take actions that prevent access, such as turning off lights or not using microphones during a presentation.

Put another way, even when “deafness” is readily identified as Stephanie’s disability, and “not-hearing” as a limitation caused by her disability, that information offers little concrete understanding of what her disability entails. Nor does it communicate what actions, moves, or accommodations might be necessary in any given situation. And when a disability is not immediately “obvious,” (as is the case with Margaret’s mental disability), even if diagnostic labels are shared and information about a particular disability is provided, few people will know what to do or how to respond to build greater access, accommodation, and support. We refer to this kind of knowledge as “disability literacy”. Building broader disability literacy—not just for individual disabled people but for everyone involved in higher education—is vital, and it is hard work whether or not a disability is “obvious.”

Carrying out that hard work requires looking carefully at the complex choreography of social interaction within academe. Our research shows that disability repeatedly disrupts people’s expectations about how interactions unfold and ways to respond to them. Such responses might include making sure that deaf people who lip read are looking at you when speaking; recognizing symptoms of a panic attack and being able to calmly negotiate that event; or developing a repertoire of means for enabling students to participate in classroom discussion (see Yergeau).

These examples illustrate that disabled students, faculty, and staff regularly have to name, point to, and work around their experiences of disability in all kinds of settings—from classrooms to professional interactions to office cubicles—that expect or require specific ways of behaving within them. What we advocate for here is not more diagnostic labeling of particular disabilities or medical conditions, but rather, a way of building collaborative and interdependent efforts that bring together faculty, staff, and students with disabilities and those who identify as nondisabled to broaden all kinds of access to higher education.

In our work organizing the “Disability Disclosure in/and Higher Education” conference, we identified the work of broadening access as not just our job as organizers in collaboration with those who made accommodation requests, but as an interdependent effort involving all of the conference attendees and participants. This work involved creating an environment in which attention would be paid not only to material, social, and physical accommodations for particular individuals, but also to the ways that all participants’ behaviors and practices would need to change and adapt as well. For example, we not only focused on ensuring that wheelchair users could enter the space, move within it, and use the bathrooms, but also on providing other kinds of access not always imagined or included in many large academic gatherings.

For people with chemical sensitivities, we worked to reduce and eliminate fragrances (providing fragrance-free soap and shampoo for participant use at the conference); we offered a quiet room that was tucked at the end of a corridor with comfortable furniture, natural light and snacks; we assembled a schedule that provided ample down-time opportunity; we provided photographs of conference spaces accompanied by crowd-sourced descriptions; and we integrated interaction badges into the conference to provide a means for participants to nonverbally signal their preferred level of interaction.

The conference became a site of participatory access, with attendees sharing responsibility for a collective commitment to access by (re)shaping the conference environment in various ways, such as by bringing soft pillows to the presentation rooms, pointing out hazardous areas (such as stairs) that needed to be marked for greater visibility, and inviting audience members at sessions to lie down or arrange their bodies in any way they would find comfortable.

While we believe such work ought to be part of everyday event planning for accessibility, we were also repeatedly reminded that there will always be forms of access that require that attendees disclose a disability, an experience, a need, or make complicated prior arrangements. And, despite our best efforts at incorporating broad accessibility, a number of inaccessible elements remained throughout the event. For example, we were reminded that the people present at the conference represented some of the most privileged disabled people: those who are healthy and well enough to travel, who can afford to spend three days in a rarefied space engaging in intellectual and social conversation, and who can procure institutional funding or other financial support (especially for those who came long distances or from other countries to attend).

We also confronted the ways that disability literacy deeply engages intersections between disability and other identity categories. Whiteness provides both of us enormous privilege, and affords us, in many cases, the energy and inclination to call out our disabilities and to engage in work that will expand access—for ourselves and for others—across myriad institutional spaces. Both of us make choices every day regarding the degree to which we will call attention to—or keep under wraps—our experiences of disability, and we also make choices about how much to invite others to think about their own experience of disability through interactions with us.

At the conference, disclosures of all kinds emerged, and more than one participant remarked, “I didn’t know I was going to talk about this.” It is not surprising that disability identities became an essential subject at a conference focused on the theme of disability disclosure. However, another kind of disclosure—involving the intersection between disability identity and racial, gender, and sexual identity—was more fraught. Attendees at the conference were overwhelmingly white, an observation remarked upon by both attendees and presenters. In her plenary remarks at the conference Mel Chen raised vital questions about the range of bodies and minds “allowed” in academia, noting that through disclosure, through shared exploration of different—disabled—positionalities, productive work can happen that might expand access to higher education for all bodies and minds.

As Chen pointed out, racialized identities intersect with disabled identities to create different avenues and possibilities for claiming space, disclosing a disability, requesting accommodation, or doing the work of asking others to think about and through disability. Ironically, Chen was speaking from a space that was limited both temporally (he was asked to share a plenary spot with another presenter) and in terms of representation (he was one of only two featured speakers of color). For some participants, then, the conference space was not a space where they could bring “their whole selves,” as Kathleen Martinez, another conference keynote presenter, asserted. We have reflected deeply on what this means, and believe it’s critical for university administrators, faculty, staff, and students alike to continue these conversations.

In composing these reflections, we have turned repeatedly to P. Gabrielle Foreman’s powerful words in her essay “A Riff, a Call, and a Response,” in which she calls upon us to remember the (numerous) privileges we held, and still hold, as organizers and as scholars. As Foreman underscores throughout her essay, working towards social justice and equity in academic spaces requires continued—and constant—vigilance. She writes, “Quite predictably, without structures of accountability that help produce the constancy and consistency needed to rebuff the creeping and often invisible replication of power, it continues, even when those of us who care deeply about those very issues are at the helm” (315).

Disability justice, a movement that centers the experiences, knowledge, and needs of people of color, is growing, yet its gains seem to emerge in gatherings such as this conference and the annual Society for Disability Studies conference only peripherally. What will create institutional change to help redress these inequities? How can we consistently work to check our privilege and join Foreman in asking hard, important questions: “What does it mean to be a good citizen in the field? . . . How do we challenge hushed entitlements and rethink our institutional processes? . . . What are the rights and privileges, the responsibilities, of belonging to fields that study the culture and the concerns, the lives and literary production, the circulation and consumption of disempowered groups—as someone who belongs to relatively empowered groups, as all of us, in part, today do?” (316).

As organizers, we cannot offer answers to these questions in this space, but we do want to offer two things. First, we offer a sincere account of our planning process, of our efforts to enact a just space, and our accountable awareness that our efforts were only partially successful. Second, we offer ourselves as listeners and contributors to an ongoing conversation about the issues raised by the conference. These questions include the resonant queries from Foreman, as well as questions regarding what it means to “gather” as a community and what it means to be safe, safer, or unsafe in all kinds of spaces across higher education. We look forward to your comments, and we give our deepest gratitude to all those who are exploring these questions with us.

Works Cited

Foreman, P. Gabrielle. “A Riff, A Call, and A Response: Reframing the Problem that Led to Our Being Tokens in Ethnic and Gender Studies; or, Where Are We Going Anyway and with Whom Will We Travel?” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 30.2 (2013): 306-322.

Kerschbaum, Stephanie L., Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Sushil K. Oswal, Amy Vidali, Susan Ghiaciuc, Margaret Price, Jay Dolmage, Craig A. Meyer, Brenda Brueggemann, and Ellen Samuels. “Faculty Members, Accommodation, and Access in Higher Education.” Profession (December 2013). Web.

Yergeau, Melanie. “Reason.” In “Multimodality in Motion: Disability and Kairotic Spaces.” With Elizabeth Brewer, Stephanie Kerschbaum, Sushil Oswal, Margaret Price, Michael Salvo, Cynthia Selfe, Franny Howes. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 18.1 (2013): n. pag.

Diversity adds Value in Selective Universities

James M. Jones

James M. Jones,
Director, Center for the Study of Diversity

James M. Jones
Director, Center for the Study of Diversity

A recent report from the Georgetown University’s Center for Education and Workforce makes the provocative argument that higher education reproduces white privilege across generations of U.S. college students.  How can higher education in the age of diversity be the purveyor of white privilege?  According to the report, here is how.

Although Black and Hispanic students are enrolling in college at ever-increasing rates—from 1995 to 2009, freshman enrollments increased for African-American students by 73 percent, for Hispanic students by 107 percent, and for white students by 15 percent—the vast majority of white freshmen (82%) are going to the 468 most selective four-year colleges and universities while African American (68%) and Hispanic (72%) freshmen are primarily attending under- resourced open-access two- and four-year colleges.

The significance of this disparity is illustrated by the greater financial resources of selective colleges and universities—they spend five times as much on instruction as open access colleges—and their students have higher rates of graduate school enrollment and advanced degree attainment, as well as higher future earnings, even among equally qualified students.

The report argues that these separate pathways to higher education create and perpetuate unequal educational and economic outcomes, leading to intergenerational reproduction of white racial privilege.

Although the statistics clearly identify the group-based advantage whites enjoy, this is not new.  White privilege is a cumulative consequence of centuries of discrimination and racism.  What is new is that black and brown students increasingly benefit from the advantages that whites have long enjoyed—by attending selective colleges and universities. Bowen and Bok documented these advantages over a decade ago in The Shape of the River (1998).  In their comprehensive study of a database of 93,660 fulltime students who entered 34 selective colleges and universities in the fall of 1951, 1976 and 1989, they document that “…admission to these kinds of schools pays off handsomely for individuals of all races, from all backgrounds…[in addition] benefits accrue to society at large through leadership and civic participation of the graduates and through the broad contributions that the schools themselves make to the goals of a democratic society” (p. 276).  Given the generalized positive consequences of attending selective colleges and universities, I focus on their role in potentially reducing race- and ethnicity-based social and economic inequality.

Most colleges and universities value diversity as integral to their institutional mission.  But how does that value translate to institutional practices and outcomes?  To measure an institution’s racial and ethnic diversity, the U.S. News and World Report college rankings computes an ethnic diversity index (EDI) which varies between 0 (none at all) to 1.00 (maximum possible diversity).  A higher diversity index indicates a more diverse student population. For example, considering diversity to include Whites, Blacks, Asians and Hispanics only, Table 1 shows the EDI for the 2012 UD undergraduate student population, and three hypothetical scenarios reflecting changes in the undergraduate population.  The EDI takes into account representation of all relevant groups and their relative proportion of the designated population.

Table 1:  EDI Calculations for UD actual and three hypothetical scenarios.


UD   Actual 2012

Scenario #1 Scenario #2 Scenario #3



































The average EDI rating of the top 20 best schools in the U.S. News rankings is .59; while the average for the lowest 20 ranked schools is .39. The average EDI of UD peer institutions is .49. The University of Delaware (UD) EDI rating in 2012 was .36, and its Best College rank was 75.  The 2013 UD entering freshman class is 24% ethnic and racial minorities, the highest it has ever been.  The EDI for the 2013 freshman class is .48.  If we assume that the 2013 graduates equal the number in the freshman class, and has the same .36 EDI as UD as a whole, then replacing them with the new freshman class raises the overall UD EDI to .39.  To reach an EDI of .48 would take four consecutive years of sustained and focused recruitment and retention of racial and ethnic minority students with at minimum, the same degree of success as 2013.  Reshaping the landscape of UD students should be framed not in a zero sum competition for admission, but as an increased competition to bring students who offer something unique, different, and valuable to the learning environment.  Hard choices, sustained commitment, and effective practices are essential to changing the profile of the UD student body in an increasingly diverse U.S. population.

Critics of diversity actions portray diversity and excellence as inherently conflicted.  As we saw, the top 20 ranked schools have the highest average EDI of any cluster of national universities.  Moreover, the correlation between EDI and best College Rank for the 200 schools that have both ratings is a highly statistically significant .235.  So by all accounts a school does not need to sacrifice prestige for diversity. However, there are some important caveats.

One group of considerations include selectivity of admissions, retention and graduation rates.  Table 1 shows the correlations of these factors with best college rankings and EDI.  The best college ranking is positively associated with lower acceptance rate (higher selectivity), higher retention of freshmen, and a better 6-year graduation rate.  Conversely, the EDI is related to higher acceptance rate (lower selectivity) selectivity, lower freshman retention, and graduation rates.

Table 2: Correlations of College prestige and diversity with student selectivity, freshmen retention and graduation rates.

College   rating

Fall 2011   acceptance rate

Average   freshman retention rate

6-year   graduation rate

Best College Rank




Ethnic Diversity Index




So, what does this mean?  I draw three insights from these analyses.  First, selective colleges and universities can play a significant role in reducing social and economic inequality when they commit to aggressively pursuing more diversity among their students and are dedicated to enhancing their success.  Second, diversity can be a plus within the proviso that retention and graduation rates remain high and steadily improve.  UD’s 6-year graduation rate is 78%, compared to Penn State’s 87% and Yale’s 98%. And third, a university’s diversity reputation can be a plus factor in its overall ranking as a national university.  According to management professors Quinetta Roberson of Villanova University, and Hyeon Jeong Park of Georgia State University, diversity reputation refers to stakeholders’ perceptions about an organization’s ability to create value through its diversity action.  The business community acknowledges that positive link, and colleges profess it but much remains to be done to determine which diversity actions contribute value and how.

Professors Roberson and Park examined Fortune 500 companies and found that the more diverse their workforce, the greater their book-to-market value—an indication of investor confidence in the company’s future.  To transpose this finding to the university setting, we may ask what value is added to a university when its diversity reputation is enhanced?  Do alumni give more or less?  Does it make it easier to recruit qualified diverse students? Does it make it less attractive to some majority white students, but more attractive to others?  Does it promote a more sensitive and broadened approach to faculty scholarship and teaching and the general education  curriculum?

The value proposition—that student and faculty diversity add value to a university—is not limited to a given university, or a given group of students.  Research strongly supports the value of diversity in higher education through promoting better citizenship, improved intergroup understanding, expanded cognitive and perspective diversity, and enhanced institutional relevance and visions of the future.  The idea that selective colleges and universities perpetuate white privilege is balanced by the fact that anyone who attends has better outcomes in school and beyond.  Moreover, according to a recent Brooking institute report, obtaining a college degree is the single, most effective way to increase economic and social mobility.  But for the landscape to change in the coming years of increasing diversity in the United States, the positive outcomes that come from attending selective colleges and universities need to be more widely available to students whose backgrounds diverge from traditional majorities.


The blog for the Center for the Study of Diversity at the University of Delaware is guided  by the premise that promoting better understanding of diversity is a compelling interest and a complex dynamic in higher education and in U.S. society.  The posts discuss and analyze a wide variety of diversity topics from research and scholarly perspectives.  Although opinions will be expressed, it is not meant primarily an opinion site, but a research-based exploration of diversity.  We also offer insights into the role of universities as “anchor institutions” in their local and regional communities—where Community includes the university campus, the cities and towns in which they are located, and the collective individuals and groups with whom they interact, support, and depend.  We invite guest bloggers from time to time to provide insight and analysis on a variety of topics that are timely and reflect ongoing issues in higher education.  We post regularly on Fridays on a three to four week schedule. We welcome feedback and commentary, though we will not necessarily respond publically.


James M. Jones, Director

James M. Jones, Director

Welcome to the blog for the Center for the Study of Diversity at the University of Delaware.  The guiding premise for this blog is to promote better understanding of diversity as a compelling interest and a complex dynamic in higher education and in U.S. society.  The posts will discuss and analyze a wide variety of diversity topics from research and scholarly perspectives.  Although opinions will be expressed, it is not meant solely as an opinion site, but as a research exploration of diversity.  We will also offer insights into the role of universities as “anchor institutions” in their local and regional communities—where Community includes the university campus, the cities and towns in which they are located, and the collective individuals and groups with whom they interact, support, and depend.  We will invite guest bloggers from time to time to provide insight and analysis on a variety of topics that are timely and reflect ongoing issues in higher education.  We will post regularly on Fridays on a three to four week schedule. We welcome your feedback and commentary, though we will not necessarily respond publically.

Race Always Matters!

James M. Jones
Professor of Psychology and Black American Studies
Director, Center for the Study of Diversity
Author (with Dovidio and Vietze)  Psychology of diversity: Beyond prejudice and racism Wiley/Blackwell, 2013

July 18, 2013

George Zimmerman, his defense attorneys, the presiding judge and the jury proclaimed that the events that led to the shooting death of a 17 year old, unarmed black youth had nothing to do with race.  It had everything to do with race.  It always involves race when violence and aggression cross racial barriers.

Race is intricately woven into the culture, the institutions and the psyche of America.  Its presence has been overt, intentional, self-aggrandizing, and instrumental at times, or covert, subtle, unconscious at other times.  However, it is there, waiting for a drop of animus or fear to ignite its destructive potential.

Proclaiming that race had nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmermann confrontation ignores not only our collective racial history, but also the substantial body of research that shows its subtle and pernicious intrusion in racial interactions.  Let me illustrate from the palette of social psychological research of the past 25 years.

We begin with the stereotype of blacks, particularly black men.  Systematic studies of racial stereotypes began in the 1930s. The prevailing stereotypes characterized blacks as lazy, ignorant, superstitious, happy-go-lucky and musical.  Over the years these have morphed from a childlike harmless image to a sinister one characterized by criminality, aggressiveness and athleticism.  Images that reinforce the fears associated with this stereotype are often characterized by the facial features, skin tone and the clothes that persons—or imagined personas—wear.

For example, research by Stanford professor Jennifer Eberhardt and her colleagues shows that among black males convicted of murder in Philadelphia, PA between 1979-1999, the probability of being sentenced to  death, or life in prison, depended on how prototypically black you look (over and above other factors known to influence sentencing like aggravating or mitigating circumstances, severity of the murder,  the defendant’s and the victim’s socioeconomic status, and the defendant’s attractiveness.).

Mr. A and Mr. BThe more black they looked (Mr. B)—hair texture, facial features, skin tone—the more likely they were to face a death sentence (58% for black-looking men, 24% for those less prototypically black looking—Mr. A).  The critical variable, though, was the race of the victim.  These disparities were only found when the victim was WHITE; when the victim was black, racial features bore no relationship to the sentence-about 46% received a death penalty sentence regardless of how black they looked.

Yes, the stereotypes matter in the psyches and subsequently in the behavior of whites, even when black people per se are not part of the situation.  For instance, Yale professor John Bargh and colleagues had white college students perform a long and very boring computer task, only to be told at the end that a glitch in the system required that they begin all over.  Their responses were monitored and assessed for the degree of negative emotion and anger they displayed.  What critically determined their anger was whether they had been shown pictures (subliminally without awareness) of black men or not.  The degree of anger they displayed was significantly increased when they had images of black men in mind, even if they were unaware of it.  The stereotype of black male hostility transfers to the psyche generating its own hostility in the perceiver.

Race is in our brain—its effects are located in specific brain structures and its consequences are reflected in a variety of brain processes.  The brain center that guides processing of faces responds differently to faces of our own than to other racial groups.  The amygdala—the area of the brain that reacts to threat and triggers a fear response—also is sensitive to race.  People who have been found to harbor subtle and unconscious racial biases show greater amygdala reaction to images of black men.  In addition, they show stronger startle responses to quick, sudden and unanticipated strong stimuli—loud noise, puff of air and so forth. In other words, amygdala activation—triggered by fear—causes generalized reactivity and hyper vigilance. These far-reaching effects are beyond the conscious awareness of those who proclaim race does not matter.

Research also finds that when images of black men are presented below awareness, college students and policemen alike, are more likely to identify an ambiguous image as a weapon, and to do it more quickly.  Although people often believe that race was irrelevant, the association between black faces and criminality affects what is perceived.

Finally, research paradigms have been developed to study what is labeled “shooter bias”—the different probabilities based on race of shooting an unarmed suspect. Participants are shown a person on a computer screen who is holding an object.  Their task is to shoot the person if he has a gun, but to refrain from shooting if he does not.  These decisions are made rapidly, the target person is either black or white, and the participant’s accuracy (shooting if he has a gun, not shooting if he doesn’t) is recorded as well as the time it took to make the decision..  By now you can guess the outcome.  Joshua Correll and colleagues at the University of Colorado found that the correct decision to shoot an armed target is made more quickly when the target is black; but the correct decision not to shoot an unarmed target is made more quickly when the target is white.  Research shows these shooter biases are related to the cultural stereotype of black men as dangerous, and to the prototypicality of how black they look!

Race matters, it always matters.  Race matters especially in confrontations when danger, fear or negative expectations are concerned.  Zimmerman carried the criminal, aggressive stereotype in his head—in his case, it was apparently more conscious than unconscious—and when he found himself in a confrontation, excited and goaded by his amygdala, and succumbing to Trayvon’s superior athleticism, he shot him.

Juror B37 loudly proclaimed that race had nothing to do with her judgment and she voted for acquittal from the beginning.  However, her mind likely conceived the same images that Zimmerman’s did on the fateful night.  In addition, the body of research I have briefly discussed is clear about the breadth and depth of the influences of race on white psyches and behavior.  Other research shows ways in which these negative effects can be mitigated suggesting it is not inevitable that these violent racial scenarios occur.  However, it is clear that acting as if or even sincerely believing that race was not involved is at best delusional, and at worst self-serving.  Changing the stereotypes, the meaning of blackness in the mind’s eye, is a most important step in correcting the psychological and social course our racial history has set us on.