Diversity and Democracy

Surveys Suggest Positive Trends Related to Diversity and Civic Education

Two recent surveys by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California-Los Angeles suggest positive changes in faculty and student attitudes toward diversity and civic engagement goals in higher education. HERI researchers reported these promising findings in "The American College Teacher: National Norms for the 2007-2008 HERI Faculty Survey" and "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2008."

Educational Access during an Economic Downturn

The Higher Education Research Institute's recent report indicates promising trends in faculty members' goals for their teaching. Yet these goals are ineffectual for students whose pathways to the classroom are interrupted by economic distress. The following suggest some economic challenges that hinder students on the road to higher education.

College Participation for Low-Income Students

The February 2009 issue of Postsecondary Education Opportunity highlights a 19-percentage-point gap in participation rates between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers. In 2007, 23.8 percent of students from low-income families participated in higher education, compared to 42.9 percent of all other students. These figures represent declining participation for both groups as compared to the previous year, and continue a pattern of declining participation for low-income students since 1999. The newsletter breaks down participation rates by state, identifies geographical patterns, and suggests a general convergence in participation rates for low-income students. To download the newsletter (available by subscription), visit www.postsecondary.org.

Financial Barriers for Undocumented Students

The College Board issued a new policy report on undocumented students and higher education in April 2009. Titled "Young Lives on Hold: The College Dreams of Undocumented Students," the report draws from available data and new interviews to support the passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The report takes aim at the significant economic barriers for those undocumented students who are eligible to attend college, but cannot legally obtain financial aid or employment. With more than 65,000 undocumented students graduating from high school each year and immigrants and their children expected to constitute all of the U.S. labor force's growth between 2010 and 2030, the report argues that providing access to affordable higher education is not only socially just but also economically necessary. To download the report, visitprofessionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/

In "The American Freshman," researchers reported that more than half of incoming full-time students described themselves as "above average" or "top 10 percent" in a range of skills collectively summarized as "pluralistic orientation" (including "ability to see the world from someone else's perspective" and "tolerance of others with different beliefs") (6). Multiracial students rated themselves more highly across all categories than students of any single race or ethnicity (6). Researchers also reported the highest level of political engagement in the survey's history, with 35.6 percent of students reporting that they had "frequently discussed politics in the past year" (3). The percentage of students who report that "keeping up with political affairs is an 'essential' or 'very important' goal" (39.5 percent) has also continued to rise since falling to a historic low in 2000 (4).

In "The American College Teacher," researchers likewise reported faculty beliefs that support student development in the areas of diversity and civic engagement. Nearly all faculty (93.6 percent) believe that campus diversity "enhances the educational experience of all students" (13), and few faculty (23.7 percent) believe that "promoting diversity leads to the admission of too many underprepared students" (7). Seventy-five percent of faculty (compared with 58 percent in 2004-05) reported that "enhanc[ing] students' knowledge of and appreciation for other racial/ethnic groups" was a "very important" or "essential" goal for their teaching (3). In the area of civic engagement, 87.9 percent of faculty believe "that colleges have a responsibility to work with their surrounding communities to address local issues" and that "colleges should encourage students to be involved in community service activities" (12). Only 46.2 percent, however, have worked with their communities in the past two years (12).

Both reports include extensive tables that disaggregate data by gender and institutional type. Each is available for purchase on the HERI Web site (www.heri.ucla.edu).


DeAngelo, L., S. Hurtado, J. H. Pryor, K. R. Kelly, J. L. Santos, and W. S. Korn. 2009. The American college teacher: National norms for the 2007-2008 HERI Faculty Survey. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, University of California.

Pryor, J. H., S. Hurtado, L. DeAngelo, J. Sharkness, L. C. Romero, W. S. Korn, and S. Tran. 2008. The American freshman: National norms for fall 2008. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, University of California.

Remembering Ronald Takaki

With the death of Dr. Ronald Takaki on May 26, 2009, the higher education community and the nation at large lost a committed and inspired educator and scholar. As a pioneering chronicler of our nation's continuing struggle to form that "more perfect union," Takaki helped launch an intercultural education movement that has transformed the academy and significantly developed higher education's capacity to educate all students for meaningful participation in our diverse democracy.

In his many publications and especially his award-winning book, A Different Mirror, Takaki helped us all see with greater clarity and understanding the many narratives that are comprised in our nation's continuing struggles toward inclusive democracy and liberty and justice for all. His scholarship illuminates the power of American ideals to kindle hope in the face of adversity, even as his work also presents in unsparing detail the human and societal cost of the prejudice that different groups have experienced as they sought to take their own place in the larger American story.

Ronald Takaki's work is, if anything, even more relevant in 2009, as it is a patient, evidence-based reminder that our progress toward a more open and mutually respectful society has never been smooth. It has always included--and includes today--contestations that are themselves a reaction to milestone accomplishments.

With humor, grace, generosity, and empathy, Takaki--through his scholarship and his teaching--demonstrated that engaging the diversity of our nation and its many braided narratives enriches us as individuals and deepens our understanding of our responsibilities as democratic citizens.

He understood that teaching about history, literature, and culture as part of a liberal education helps students develop the ability to take seriously the perspectives of others as a crucial and indispensable dimension of both critical thinking and civic responsibility. He knew that the ability to see the world as others see it must be a central aim of a college education and that when students develop this capacity, they are far better prepared to grapple with the complexity of this nation's democratic ideals.

Across the many layers of AAC&U's continuing work on diversity and democracy over the past two decades, AAC&U's members have benefited both from Takaki's vision and from his scholarship. A Different Mirror was a cornerstone text of AAC&U's American Commitments summer institutes, through which hundreds of college faculty members developed their own abilities to teach about diversity, American history, and American struggles for justice--those won and those that continue to be waged.

His legacy is renewed in the scholarship and teaching of the many who have learned from him. As one of his former students noted on Facebook, "Professor Takaki's class was one of the few I clearly remember for the profound change it had on the way I viewed myself as an Asian American and minorities in America as a whole. I feel privileged to have experienced his teaching and comforted that his words will live on in his books."

AAC&U, too, is grateful that both his scholarship and his generosity of spirit will continue to inform our ongoing national dialogue about diversity, identity, democracy, and justice. We extend our sincerest sympathies to Dr. Takaki's family and all his many former colleagues and students at UC-Berkeley.

Editor's note: A version of this text was originally published on June 2, 2009, atwww.aacu.org.

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