Diversity Within and Between People: A Perspective on Diversity Efforts, Campus Climate and Inclusion by Karla A. Bell

Karla A. Bell, Associate Director of Clinical Education, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy, University of Delaware

Karla A. Bell,
Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy,
Associate Director of Clinical Education,
University of Delaware

Welcome back to the Center for the Study of Diversity Blog.  We have been on hiatus but are excited to renew our postings on diversity matters. The guiding premise for the CSD blog is promoting better understanding of diversity as a compelling interest and a complex dynamic in higher education and in U.S. society.  Now more than ever, diversity is both compelling and contentious. We welcome guest bloggers who provide scholarly analyses of diversity issues, from any responsible perspective.  Postings undoubtedly express opinions but this site is not meant solely as an opinion site, but as a research-based examination of diversity. Today our guest blogger is Karla A. Bell, Associate Director of Clinical Education and Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Delaware. She serves as Co-Chair of United Way of DE’s state LGBTQ Health Equity Task force and of University of Delaware’s LGBTQ Caucus. She lectures and presents/facilitates discussions around LGBTQ culturally competent health care and health disparity/equity at the local, state, and national levels.  Her post argues for the significant and salient benefits of taking an intersectionality approach to social identities—namely, the need for universities to examine their structures and (non)inclusive approaches to inclusivity.


2016 has already broken boundaries and history regarding “exclusion” and “inequality” of some marginalized populations within the United States including race, sexual orientation, and gender minority groups to name a few. We’re all intersectional human beings, that is to say, we are all complex and multi-identified beings existing within the realm of how society has chosen to define most parts of identify. Each one of our identities brings something to the table, as does the relationship between them, thus the intersection emphasis. This piece provides a voice to what campus climate inclusivity looks like from an intersectional perspective. Our campuses help build productive and, hopefully, better citizens that interconnect in immeasurable ways across this globe. Our campuses offer an opportunity to their communities that is unlike most other places in this country: an opportunity to model, teach, and engage in the richness and promise of why a diverse citizenship is the strongest foundation for society. However, I ask whether our higher education institutions are living up to this unparalleled opportunity they have. Gallup’s recent survey of over 30,000 students revealed that the majority of them attached more value to their degrees if they felt their campuses were truly more diverse .1 Diversity = value-added!

In a 2013 blog post, CSD Director James Jones articulated the “diversity = value-added” proposition by showing that the 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.” 2 I’d like to expand that conversation to include why taking an intersectional approach to diversity and inclusion (D & I) efforts best match the current and future landscape of our nation and the world. To briefly explain, taking an intersectional approach would help us ensure that we don’t continue to overlook the challenges that exist for people belonging to multiple marginalized groups because it allows contextualization of each group membership and the relationships between them. Intersectionality is a tool for analyzing and understanding the ways in which various identities relate to each other and how these relationships contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege; this leads to a more informed responses in seeking solutions.

A snapshot of 2016 thus far provides a running list to explain the rising tide of societal upset. For purposes of this blog post, a limited and selective list still highlights some of the most impactful areas that affect campus climate:

  • The first female Presidential nominee ever in U.S. history,
  • The 2016 President-elect who has been categorized by some as one of the most racist, xenophobic, misogynist President-elects in history.
  • The record number of hate crimes logged
  • ~437 reported hateful discrimination and harassment incidents in 7 days post 2016 Presidential election (Southern Poverty Law Center)
  • The Orlando Pulse nightclub LGBT hate crime – labeled the worst mass attack on U.S. soil since 9/11,
  • The heightened racial climate with law enforcement and the treatment of the black community,
  • The Black Lives Matter movement,
  • A record number of anti-LGBT legislation introduced in our country,
  • The political revolution of Bernie Sanders,
  • The continued murders in the transgender community,
  • The greatest socioeconomic divide in our country’s history
  • Heightened xenophobia, especially toward Muslims

Higher education is scrambling to process and help build an overall sense of solidarity, safety, and respect within campus walls. As we do so, I advocate strongly for a foundation of intersectional understanding and acknowledgement toward the complexity of diversity. Traditional approaches to D & I efforts have taken either a Unitary or Multiple approach to difference. The former focuses on one factor of difference as sufficient to characterize or explain a situation whereas the latter takes into account multiple differences and factors, but doesn’t explore the relationships that exist between them. Traditional D & I efforts force one to choose between/among identities and, thus, privilege one identity over another. Building effective D & I efforts needs to include re-evaluating and addressing where past frameworks have fallen short, as well as offering up better contextualized interpretations: intersectionality.

Legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in her 1989 essay, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.3 While Crenshaw coined the term for addressing the challenges of immigrant women of color, it has now been embraced to help frame multiple social identities and the very relationships that often get overlooked in traditional D & I efforts, education, and research. Intersectionality is the diversity within and between people, it is the richness that gets lost when we try to grasp and rationalize reasons for why something happens in discrimination and oppression. For example, taking an intersectional lens to looking at some of today’s societal occurrences would be eye-opening:

  • the closing of women’s health clinics and the fight for reproductive justice disproportionately affects lower income women of color (two intersections),
  • health disparity research identifying more population health findings specific to multiple intersections (older adult, lesbian, African American women) could be significant in the hunt for health equity
  • looking at student retention and success strategies specific to the individualized needs and environment of gay African American men at HBCU or of male Latinos with physical disabilities would help contextualize the unique cultural challenges faced for these student populations

These examples highlight the focus of looking at the interplay and effects of each identity on the others, whereas, traditional D & I efforts may highlight the gender discrimination, but not the socioeconomic influence; or the aging health disparities and not the multiple concurrent influences of race, gender, and sexual orientation; or the student retention and success of African American men or Latino men but lose the confounding cultural influence of the sexual orientation and/or disability intersections. The Intersectional theoretical framework brings D & I efforts one step closer to appreciation of humanity through understanding the relationships that occur among all of ones’ identities’ concurrently (e.g. race/ethnicity, gender, class, Indigeneity, sexuality, geography, age, disability/ability, migration status, religion). In other words, as a Caucasian, lesbian, married, female 45-year-old, I exist as a Caucasian AND lesbian AND married AND female AND 45-year-old all at once. The paradigm of intersectional diversity is both/and, not either/or!  As diversity scholars, we can see the beauty in this framework, because acknowledging the relationships between identities allows us to engage in deeper and more meaningful efforts for inclusion. These relationships occur within all connected systems and structures of power. Here is where we allow discovery and collaborative solutions around privilege and oppression, because we have respectfully acknowledged not only all of the social constructs that exist, but have also started to allow full appreciation of coexistence and interactional effects.

2016 is a year of metaphorical explosion in our nation in regard to social justice and divide in the media, both in words and in actions. Just since the Presidential election in Nov. 2016, The Chronicle of Higher Education has started a tracker for daily campus climate incidents regarding discrimination and harassment. As of Nov. 18th 2016, over 30 campuses across the country have been discussed on this tracker. The recent Pew Research Center demographic trend data shows the highest divide in Americans’ identity-based thinking and partisanship that results in far more than just political discourse; it has resulted in outward disapproval of others’ beliefs, patriotism, motives, and much more. 10 Our campuses bring together aspiring intellectuals looking for answers, thirsting for knowledge, and also seeking safety and a sense of belonging. Should we be taking a deeper dive into the connectedness that each person brings with them to help identify solutions? Should we be encouraging more campus spaces and activities that help celebrate humankind in all of its complexities without isolating and prioritizing identities? We should be modeling ways to engage in respectful discourse and conversation around differences in beliefs / values and expression of those beliefs / values.  With the thousands of events that occur on our campuses, we’re certainly not going to like or agree with some of them, so how do we capture that learning moment? I believe we start by looking at the intersections and the bigger picture the issue illuminates.

Our campus makeup: we have the ever increasing Millennial workforce and student body. Furthermore, according to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations, with nearly 40 percent of Millennials belonging to a non-white race or ethnicity.5 Millennials will also make up nearly 75% of our workforce by 2025, which expands the complexity of D & I efforts to every facet of the American landscape. In essence, this has actually benefitted the advocacy argument for moving toward an intersectional approach to D & I efforts because Millennials are generally more focused on being valued for their “whole” self – for all of their identities, and have really devalued the compartmentalization and separation of identity distinctions and categories.6

That brings me to a couple of the specific social identities that have traditionally been some of the most marginalized in population health research and data efforts, as well as in campus efforts for inclusion: our sexual and gender minorities. There is no national data regarding sexual orientation and gender identity diversity numbers because this information is not standardly collected. In their report for Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion, Kelly and Smith eloquently title the piece with a question: “What if the road to inclusion were really an intersection?”6 That is the approach I want to add to this blog: the intersections of sexual and gender minority with the other concurrent intersections that have gathered more traction in data collection and D & I efforts like race, ethnicity, age.

The beauty of bringing the intersectional lens to our campus D & I efforts lies in one of its core principles: its focus on historically marginalized groups (such as LGBT, lower socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, disability status) as intersecting identities. Because this is the lens in which everything starts, then our efforts and research can examine these populations from their perspectives and contexts and not the other way around. As my field is healthcare, and I’m versed in the LGBT health disparity realm, I know this concept has been populated in medical and public health research over the last decade. This lens opens up the door for a greater appreciation for some of the intersectional invisibilities that exist on our campuses.

Arguably, student retention is multi-faceted, and we know campus climate plays a role. This is even more important for our marginalized student groups. Unfortunately, as I write this blog, the data collection efforts for our LGBT students, faculty, staff is still substandard at best, which perpetuates the invisibility of how these intersections relate with others. Windmeyer, Humphrey, and Barker detailed out the criticality of including sexual orientation and gender identity in demographic data of our students, linking it directly to academic success, retention, and campus climate research.7 The Campus Pride Index is the only nationally recognized LGBTQ campus climate survey that provides comparative data. Using the 2015 Campus Pride Index data that University of Delaware completed, we show that UD scores a 57% overall for campus climate considered inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. Some of the lowest scores came in the areas of recruitment/retention, academic support, and institutional commitment.11 These students, faculty, and staff deserve the consideration of how their intersections play a role in campus life, in academic success, and in retention. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force revealed that 20% of LGBTQ faculty/staff members and students reported they feared for their physical safety on campus and 43% categorize their campus as homophobic.8  These intersections matter.

Utilization of Intersectionality will most definitely require our campuses to critically re-examine the existing structures and diversity networks with the core question of whether they are “paradoxically non-inclusive”. Why have our diversity efforts stalled; have they stalled because they’re one-dimensional? Are we truly looking deep enough into the strength of the intersections of diversity identities for the answers? Are we trying to fully appreciate that, just because individuals share common social identities (e.g. gay, black, lower socioeconomic status, veterans), doesn’t mean they have the same interests because their lived experiences and other identities define their personal values? Our research, educational, and support frameworks for D & I efforts should aim to complete the picture of economic, social, political, cultural experiences better than our past efforts.

In conclusion, I’d like to offer some thoughts on “doing intersectionality” Based on the literature, some useful suggestions follow: 12,13

  • For an intersectional analysis to be useful, it has to be informed by the experiences and views of multiple identities (i.e.: if looking at race studies, include people of color with full diversity of identities: black, gay male; black heterosexual transgender female, etc.)
  • Utilize a different framework of questions when approaching research or program set-up:
    • In the community/region that you’re looking at, which forms of identity are critical organizing principles beyond the prime identity you’re looking to address (i.e.: beyond gender, look at race, class, sexual orientation, etc.)?
    • Within the prime focus of your research or efforts, which are the most marginalized and why (i.e.: who are the most marginalized in a group of men and women?)
    • Reframe your questions: instead of looking at what initiatives would address one group of people, ask which initiatives would address the needs of the most marginalized or discriminated groups within that prime group.
    • When looking at resources available on campus, which initiatives would benefit the most marginalized groups, and are they really included in your D & I action plans beyond including the group in your inclusion definitions?
    • Which groups have the best public representation, and which groups have the least public representation on campus and how can that improve?

Our students and our colleagues on our campuses deserve our best efforts to challenge the status quo and do “intersectionality well”9Diversity = value-added!


  1. Vollman A. Exposure to Diversity Adds Value to College Degree, Poll Shows. Accessed 8/24/16 at http://www.insightintodiversity.com/exposure-to-diversity-adds-value-to-college-degree-poll-shows/
  2. Jones JM. Diversity adds Value in Selective Universities. 2013. Accessed 8/1/16 at https://sites.udel.edu/csd/
  3. Crenshaw, K. Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review: 43(6) July 1991, pp 1241-1299.
  4. Adewunmi B. Kimberle Crenshaw on intersectionality: “I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use”. 4/2/2014. Accessed 8/1/16 at http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersectionality-i-wanted-come-everyday-metaphor-anyone-could
  5. Pew Research Center, Millennials: A portrait of generation next: Confident. Connected. Open to change, February 2010, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennialsconfident-connected-open-to-change.pdf.
  6. Kelly SK, Smith C. “What if the road to inclusion were really an intersection?” December 11, 2014. Accessed on 8/23/16 at http://dupress.com/articles/multidimensional-diversity/?icid=hp:ft:01
  7. Windmeyer, S. L., Humphrey, K., & Baker, D. (2013). An institutional responsibility: Tracking retention and academic success of out LGBT students. American College Personnel Association. Retrieved from http://www.myacpa.org/article/institutional-responsibilitytracking-retention-academic-success-out-lgbt-students
  8. Rankin, Susan R. (2003). Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People: A National Perspective. New York: The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. ngltf.org
  9. Mitchell, D., Jr. (2016, May 31). How to start a revolution: Use intersectionality as a framework to promote student success [Web log post]. Available at http://videos.myacpa.org/how-to-start-a-revolution-by-donald-mitchell
  10. Taylor P. (2016, Jan 27). The demographic trends shaping American politics in 2016 and beyond. Pew Research Center. Accessed on 9.30.16 at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/27/the-demographic-trends-shaping-american-politics-in-2016-and-beyond/
  11. Campus Pride: University of Delaware 2015 Campus Pride Index Report.
  12. A. Aylward, “Intersectionality: Crossing the Theoretical and Praxis Divide” (Paper Distributed at Transforming Women’s Future: Equality Rights in the New Century: A National Forum on Equality Rights presented by West Coast Leaf, 4 November 1999) [unpublished].
  13. Symington A. Intersectionality: A Tool for Gender and Economic Justice. Women’s Rights and Economic Change: No. 9. Accessed on November 20, 2016 at https://lgbtq.unc.edu/sites/lgbtq.unc.edu/files/documents/intersectionality_en.pdf.

Racial Disparities in Delaware’s Public Schools Require Attention and Action

Ted Davis,  Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware

Ted Davis, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware

Ted Davis is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware.  His research focuses on Politics and African-Americans in post-civil rights America, and the politics of racial and socioeconomic inequality.  His most recent book is Black Politics Today: The Era of Socioeconomic Transition (Routledge 2012).

Finland is often ranked at the top or very near the top of developed countries with the best education system.  The U.S. is generally ranked somewhere in the middle. Why is Finland so successful? Why has the US become mediocre?  First, teachers in Finland are trusted to do “whatever it takes” to educate each child and their decision is not data-driven. For example, if one method of educating students doesn’t work, teachers are free to consult with their colleagues to try something else. The process of educating in Finland very decentralized giving teachers as professional more say in what needs to be taught and how to individual students.  Second, the Finns have created an educational system that values and works with the diversity of its student body.  Finland is fairly homogenous, however in the past decades, as the result of immigration, its student population is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse.  But it is not only ethnic diversity, but socioeconomic diversity the Finnish educational system responds to their specific needs.[i]

Racial disparities in K-12 educational achievement in the U.S. continue to be of nationwide concern in light of the 60th anniversary of the Brown Decision and 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  The Obama administration introduced the “Race to the Top” plan in an attempt to return the U.S. educational system to the top.  The plan stressed improvements in several areas including a “demonstrated and sustained education reform” that would raise student achievement and close the achievement gap.  Delaware was one of the first states chosen to participate in the “Race to the Top” program.  If Delaware is to become the Finland of the 50 states, it’s essential that the state addresses the educational achievement gap (the gap) and its dropout problem (especially among its black student population).  For purposes of this essay, all references to the gap are in reference to the average difference between statewide aggregated percentages of black and white students meeting the math standards on current and former assessment instruments.

Why is it imperative to reduce the educational achievement gap between blacks and whites? It’s important because blacks make up approximately 22 percent of Delaware’s population and black students are roughly 31 percent of the public school student population.  With a public school population this racially diverse, Delaware cannot afford to ignore racial disparities in educational achievement.  Perhaps equally important is the impact of the educational achievement gap on the state’s future economic growth and development.  There is a substantial body of evidence demonstrating that the cognitive skills of the state’s workforce are strongly related to future economic growth (i.e., the capacity of the economy to produce goods and services).[ii]   In other words, the achievement/attainment gap is more than a public education issue, it has major consequences for the state’s economic development.

Persistence of the Gap

Black students lag “significantly” behind white students in their educational performance in Delaware (See Graph 1).  The percentage of black and white students meeting Delaware’s math standards has improved meaningfully since 1998.  The percentage of black students meeting the standard increased by 42.3 points during this fifteen year period, while the percentage of white students meeting the math standard increased by 41 points. This across the board increase is good news on one hand.  On the other hand, between 1998 and 2013, the gap between black and white students declined by only 1.3 percent.   From 1998 to 2004, the gap actually grew by as much as 9.5 percentage points.

Graph 2 examines changes in the percentage of students meeting the state’s math standards by race.  The annual change in the percentage of black students meeting the math standards since 1998 was 2.94 compared to 2.82 percent for white students. The critical concern is that since 1998 the percentage of black students meeting Delaware’s math standards has increased significantly, but there has been no corresponding decline in the black/white achievement gap during this period., However, since 2005 the annual change in the percentage of students meeting the math standards has been significantly greater for black students (2.6 percentage points) than for white students (1.3 percent points).  Although this is good news, at this pace it will take more than  20 years to close the educational achievement gap. Delaware can’t afford to wait that long in a changing global economy.

Graph 1: Delaware Trends in Average Percentage of Black and White 10th Graders Meeting the State's Math Standards 1998 - 2013

Graph 1: Delaware Trends in Average Percentage of Black and White 10th Graders Meeting the State’s Math Standards 1998 – 2013.     (Click on graph to enlarge.)

Graph 2: Annual Change in the Percent of Students Meeting the Delaware Math Standards and the Gap by Race:  1998-2013

Graph 2: Annual Change in the Percent of Students Meeting the Delaware Math Standards and the Gap by Race: 1998-2013.     (Click on graph to enlarge.)

Racial differences in SES do not account for the Gap

In 2010, the achievement gap between low-income and non-low-income blacks was smaller (10.8 percent) than the gap between low-income and non-low-income whites (18.6 percent) as shown in Graph 3.  What this suggests is that black student scores on the achievement tests did not differ as widely across socio-economic lines as that of the white students. Not a good sign, because the variation among white students across SES was much greater than it was for black students.  In other words, the scores for black students are more tightly cluster around the mean score than was the case for white student scores. Thus, meaning that SES factors mattered more among white students than among black students.  The data show the gap between non-low-income blacks and non-low-income whites (40.8 percent) was also twice as large as the gap between low-income blacks and low-income whites (22.2 percent).  If these differences were strictly about class and not about race, we would expect to see the opposite effects.  To further highlight this point, when we examined the gap between low-income whites and non-low-income blacks, the data showed a larger percentage of low-income whites (50.6 percent) meeting the standards than non-low-income blacks (36 percent)—a difference of 14.6%.   What this suggests is that SES matters more in explaining the variation among white students than it does black students.

Graph 3: Gap Between Black and White 10th Graders Meeting the Math Standards (2010) in Delaware by Race and SES

Graph 3: Gap Between Black and White 10th Graders Meeting the Math Standards (2010) in Delaware by Race and SES.   (Click on graph to enlarge.)

Dropout as a risk factor in the achievement gap

Dropping out of school also occurs differentially for black and white students in Delaware.  In 2011-12, roughly 5.2 percent of the black (and Hispanic) students dropped out of high school compared to 2.9 percent of white students.  According to Graph 4, there was no difference in the percentage of dropouts who were black (44 percent) or white students (43 percent). The urgency of the problem can be best understood best by noting that black students were 31 percent of the public school population, yet they were 43 percent of dropout population.

Graph 4: 2011-12 Delaware Dropout Totals by Race, Ethnicity and Sex

Graph 4: 2011-12 Delaware Dropout Totals by Race, Ethnicity and Sex.    (Click on graph to enlarge.)

In Delaware, when 9th graders were asked if they “believed that doing well in school is important to my future,” 86.4 percent of the African-Americans compared to 90.6 percent of their white classmates agreed.  Despite this strong sense of understanding of the importance of school among blacks, a proportionally higher percent drop out of school.   Osborne offer a possible explanation when the found the correlation between self-esteem and grade point average quite similar across races and sexes in the 8th grade, but by the 10th grade the similarities had disappeared for black males and dropped significantly for black females. Osborne attributed the cause to dis-identification with school, that is schooling does not provide the same pathway to self-worth for blacks that it does for whites. [iii]

Where Do We Go From Here

We begin by acknowledging that Delaware is not the exception in the U.S. when it comes to racial disparities in education.  However, for Delaware to become the Finland of public education in America, depends on its ability to 1) think and operate outside the box in addressing racial disparities in educational achievement, 2) the Delaware community (especially the black community) must adopt a “whatever it takes” attitude about making the educational process work for everyone, and 3) it begins with Delaware truly valuing the racial and socio-economic diversity by realizing the one size fits all education doesn’t work for everybody.

Operating outside the box requires commitment, accountability, and taking responsibility for closing the gap.  Consequently, the Governor must declare the achievement gap to be a public crisis and its resolution a top State priority.  The Department of Education, superintendents and principals must be held publicly accountable and responsible for ensuring that academic support and infrastructures are in place to enhance academic performance in their respective environments.  Like in Finland, teachers must be empowered to teach what needs to be taught to ensure academic success for “all” students and not just what is needed to pass standardized tests. Finally, the educational system must be sensitive to the cultural and social differences in learning styles and to realign its educational policies and programs as required.

Delaware as a community must truly value and appreciate diversity and to turn it into an asset and not a liability. Closing the achievement gap will require a holistic approach that addresses the social and economic issues related to academic success.  A “whatever it takes” attitude begins with an education system that understands that the one size fits all curriculum approach will not close the achievement gap.  Similarly, racial education disparities in education will not come with an educational policy that lacks cultural and racial sensitivity to the needs and life experiences of its diverse student population.   Success will only come with policy approaches that acknowledge that the achievement gap is a continuing manifestation of inequalities among diverse populations in income, health care, housing, wealth, employment opportunities, etc. Although the achievement gap is not just a Delaware problem, Delaware is in a position to be a true laboratory of democracy.  With its status as the first “Race To The Top” awardee, the state must be willing to seek progressive solutions that are inclusive of diverse decision-makers.

Delaware’s black community also has some responsibility for resolving the achievement gap, after all it is our village’s children whose academic performance is lagging. What are some of the actions the black community can take?  It could increase the number of culturally and racially dedicated support services within the community that produce positive outcomes for academically our underperforming black students. The black community could be more active in helping schools to strengthen and expand existing programs that effectively address diversity/cross-cultural understanding inside the educational system and in the broader community. The black community institutions and organizations could utilize a variety of public awareness and communications techniques to encourage black parents to become active participants in their children’s education. The black community institutions and organizations (especially religious institutions) must devote some of their resources to organizing high quality out of school programs that extend learning time and opportunities for black students (especially those in urban low income communities).

In closing, the Delaware community can no longer afford to wait to take action to address to deal with the racial disparities in education nor can it operate under the premise that the achievement gap only affects certain students. That is not just a crisis in inner city communities or from low income black families.  The data clearly indicates that the crisis in the academic performance of black students cuts across all demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic groups.  Quite simply, as the state of Delaware “Race to Deliver,” the Delaware community must endorse a “whatever it takes” attitude to conquer its number one problem: educational disparities in public education.

I invite you to participate in a study about perceptions of why some students do better in school than others. Participating in the study will afford you the opportunity to reflect on your own views about the factors influencing the educational success of African-American students. To participate, please click on the link before and complete the survey.  It should take no more than 20 minutes to complete (click on the web address below or copy and paste to the address bar on your browser).



[i]  LynNell Hancock, Why are Finland’s Schools Successful?: The country’s achievements in education have other nations, especially the United States, doing their homework.” Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011

[ii] Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann. 2012. “Do better schools lead to more growth? Cognitive skills, economic outcomes, and causation.” Journal of Economic Growth, volume 17, pages 267-321

[iii] Jason W. Osborne. 1995. “Academics, self-esteem and race: A look at the underlying assumptions of dissident faction hypothesis.” Personality and Social Psychology, volume 21, number 5 (May) pages 449-455.

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 jeflynn@udel.edu.


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 http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2101253

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 http://imaginingamerica.org/research/tenure-promotion/.

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: http://www.udel.edu/prominence/pdfs/DECExecutiveSummary.pdf


[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. http://profession.commons.mla.org/2013/12/09/faculty-members-accommodation-and-access-in-higher-education/.

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. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/18.1/coverweb/yergeau-et-al/pages/reason/index.html

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.