COLLEGE PARK – The advisory board for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race came to the University of Maryland on Wednesday to find ways to preserve campus diversity in the face of recent attacks on affirmative action.
While board members cautiously avoided criticizing initiatives like California’s Proposition 209, which prohibits preferences in hiring, contracting and admissions, they said there is still a need for campus diversity programs.
“We’re looking for promising practices,” said board chairman John Hope Franklin. “This is about how to do what Proposition 209 fails to do.”
The daylong forum was focused on successful diversity programs from colleges around the country. Speakers at the conference were all for such programs, and the richness they bring to a college education.
“What good does it do me if everyone is the same?” asked Jennifer Walper, a Jewish senior at the College Park campus who said she wanted to attend a school that resembled, demographically, the larger society.
Since coming to college, she said, she has realized that diversity is more than just being around other people, it also means knowing about them, their histories and their concerns.
“An issue that affects one group will have an effect on the Jewish community and society as a whole,” she said.
But Jesus Trevino, director of the Intergroup Relations Center at Arizona State University, said such interaction does not come easily. That’s where diversity programs come into play.
“Interaction with individuals who are different is fraught with anxiety, misunderstandings, conflict and tension,” Trevino said. “I find troubling the lack of opportunities or the lack of programs on most college campuses for structured and deliberate intergroup contact.
“Diversity is an asset and colleges and universities can utilize it as such by structuring positive contact between many different groups,” he said.
The University of Maryland began moving in that direction a decade ago with its “Moving Toward Community” initiative, which coordinates diversity activities in single united effort.
The university now boasts 153 black faculty members, said Gladys Brown, director of human relations, and ranks second overall in the number of African-American students graduating with a degree in the sciences.
Minority students are not the only ones to benefit from diversity initiatives, said Daryl G. Smith, professor of education and psychology at Claremont Graduate University in California.
“Diversity initiatives positively influence both majority and minority students on campus,” she said.
Historically black colleges and universities also provide good examples of working diversity initiatives in higher education. The faculty and student population at these institutions are often more diverse than at predominantly white schools.
Norman Francis, president of noted that 45 percent of the faculty at many historically black institutions are not African American, whereas only 3.8 percent of faculty at predominantly white colleges are black.
He added that white student enrollment at schools like Xavier was 13 percent, while black students made up only 8 percent of the student body at non-black schools.
Claremont’s Smith said that only by encouraging diversity will the full potential of higher education be reached.
“Campuses serve as a microcosm for the issues, efforts, structural inequities and tensions in society,” she said.
The forum was part of the advisory board’s year-long examination of race relations in the United States. The board is scheduled to report its findings to the president next summer.