Sunday, July 15, 2007

Socio-economic Factors Fail in Creating a "Diverse" Student Body

A NY Times article reports that high schools are having trouble creating diverse student bodies using socioeconomic factors rather than race. The article reports when schools in San Francisco began considering other factors besides race to create a diverse student body, these plans did not work. While the premise of race correlating with income is fertile ground for creating a diverse student body in theory, in practice the experience of using such criteria has proved quite difficult.

What does this mean for the use of race in creating a diverse student body? It at the very least does not entirely foreclose the option of utilizing factors that favor certain races in designing a racially diverse student body. Justice Kennedy's opinion in the recent Seattle schools case therefore is very prescient in emphasizing the fact that in some cases race may actually be a useful means of selecting and rejecting certain applicants for high school admission. (Admissions to undergraduate and graduate education remain an entirely separate issue addressed in two other affirmative action cases).

The findings by the San Francisco schools also raise interesting questions about what exactly diversity means. What precisely constitutes a "diverse" student body? What's wrong with having an entirely black student body? For example, a high school student body could be composed entirely of black students. However, if one digs deeper, and gets to know each individual student, we find that some are children of wealthy doctors, lawyers or business men. Some come from housing projects nearby. Others are immigrants who recently came from Sudan as refugees and are learning English as a second language. Some of these students aspire to be artists, NBA basketball players, president, or the U.N. Secretary General. Would not someone say that this is a diverse group of students who could learn from each other's different experiences, talents, and backgrounds?

There are real and substantive differences between each individual student in the scenario that could provide educational benefits. Are the educational benefits even greater when these students can visually see differences in skin color? An interesting question that courts may have to confront one day (perhaps rather soon) in the future.