Diversity Forum Update

Many members of our community are working to make our campus more inclusive by focusing on three priorities we identified after the fall student forum, Diversity University: In Theory and In Practice. The priorities are: (1) improving interactions between Public Safety and students, (2) increasing the scope and intensity of the Making Excellence Inclusive program on campus, and (3) enhancing town-gown connections to increase opportunities for positive interactions between the campus and the city.

Dean Rick Culliton is overseeing a Public Safety Review Committee, composed of students, staff, and faculty members. The committee’s charge is to work with the director of Public Safety to address concerns raised by students last fall. The committee has recommended that Public Safety modify campus safety alerts to provide descriptions of suspects without using race as a descriptor, and Public Safety has adopted this practice. The committee continues to review the department’s policies and protocols, web presence, and schedule of trainings. Ensuring that there is a clear path for reporting concerns to the department is important. The committee also will serve as a liaison for an external review by Margolis Healy and Associates, a leading campus law enforcement consulting firm. The consultants will meet with students, faculty and staff on April 30 and May 1 to conduct a complete assessment of the Office of Public Safety.

Vice-President and Chief-Diversity-Officer Sonia Mañjon has been leading our work on the intensification of MEI. Faculty, staff, and students will receive a Campus Climate Survey on Monday, March 25, and I urge you to respond to this important document. One of the recommendations that has emerged from our MEI discussions already has been to pursue faculty and staff diversity more energetically, seizing opportunities to hire members of groups under-represented on campus. We have been doing so and are encouraged by the results. The Making Excellence Inclusive task force and the WSA committee on Diversity and Inclusion are expected to make recommendations with regard to MEI goals based on discussions with students, faculty and staff.

To address our third priority, improving town-gown relations, we have held a variety of meetings with local stakeholders in education, community enhancement and economic development. Vice-President John Meerts has been meeting with groups on-and off-campus, and we continue to explore ways to be a better institutional citizen and neighbor.

The next Diversity University Forum will be held on April 24, and will focus on diversity in the curriculum. Our work to build a more inclusive and caring community will continue with new student orientation in the fall of 2013, which will be devoted to “Diversity and Inclusion.” The Board of Trustees will focus its fall retreat on discussing diversity on campus.

Recognizing that building an inclusive campus culture is a work-in-process, Wesleyan remains committed to creating, as our mission statement puts it, a “diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”


Steps Toward Inclusive Excellence: Campus Climate Survey

Our Chief Diversity Officer, Sonia Mañjon, has arranged for students, faculty and staff to receive a survey today that will bring together information about the climate of diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.

Results from the survey will also help to inform next steps for Making Excellence Inclusive. The surveys are voluntary and anonymous, with results presented in aggregate form. We will not report any data for groups of fewer than five individuals that may be small enough to compromise identity.

For students, we are using the Diverse Learning Environments (DLE) Survey hosted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA. It asks about students’ perceptions of the climate on campus, of academic work, of interaction with faculty and peers, of participation in campus activities, and of the use of campus services. Students will receive an email explaining the survey with a link so that they can complete it quickly.

For faculty and staff we have developed a survey to better understand perceptions of community, career development, access to resources, and to collect general feedback on the culture of the institution. Staff and faculty will receive an email that explains the survey with a survey link.

I hope that many will take the time to complete these surveys. The data we collect will help us in our work to cultivate a campus culture in which everyone can flourish.

Diversity Conversations and Programs Continue

Today I had lunch with a group of students whom our chief diversity officer Sonia Mañjon invited to my office for sandwiches and conversation. I learned a lot from the students’ candid comments about some of the barriers to inclusion that still exist on campus. We spoke about ways in which students can sometimes feel a lack of respect in the classroom, and how they can feel that the campus climate might prevent those from under-represented groups from getting the most out of their Wesleyan experience. We talked about ways of improving our recruiting and retention of students in the sciences, and I also heard about a plan to recognize those on campus who go the extra mile to help others succeed at Wesleyan. This was just one in a series of conversations I will have with student groups. These will help us develop policies to make our university a more equitable and welcoming place for all.

Developing a campus climate that makes excellence inclusive is the subject of our MLK celebration tomorrow, Friday, February 1. “Diversity University: From Theory to Practice,” is the theme of this year’s daylong commemoration.

Diversity University: Moving from Theory to Practice

Friday, February 1, 2013

Schedule of Events

10 a.m. – 12 noon: Session Block I
1 p.m. – 3 p.m: Session Block II

Film Screening & Discussion: Cracking the Code: The system of Racial Inequity
Facilitators: Dr. Shakti Butler & Dr. Sonia Mañjon
Location: Usdan 108 (Session I); PAC 001 (Session II)

 Film Screening & Discussion: Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible
Facilitator: Professor Sarah Mahurin & Professor Lois Brown
Location: Usdan Multi-Purpose Room (Session I); PAC 002 (Session II)

Exploring Privilege by Examining Socialization
The messages we grew up with have implications for how we perceive ourselves and others. The power and privilege associated with our group identities often account for how we experience life. By reviewing the Cycle of Socialization and taking the Privilege Walk it will illuminate dynamics that impact the situations we find ourselves in on Wesleyan’s campus.
Facilitators: Tanya Bowers & WesDEF’s
Location: Fayerweather 106 – Theater Rehearsal Room (Session I & II)

Inside-Out & Outside-In: A Creative Identity & Ally Workshop
This workshop will use the arts to explore the perception and reality of our own identities. The impact of examining what we perceive from others and who we really are will inform an understanding of our own bias. We will then use that information to explore key concepts in allyship.
Facilitators: Elisa Cardona & Joanne Rafferty
Location: Usdan 110 (Session I & II)

I’m especially looking forward to the keynote address. You can learn more about the programs here.


3:15pm, Memorial Chapel

Keynote Address by:

Dr. Shakti Butler


Diversity Forum Update

A month ago, following on the student forum Diversity University: In Theory and In Practice, I proposed to our community three priorities on which to focus for making our campus culture more inclusive. As you may remember, the priorities are: (1) improving interactions between Public Safety and students, (2) increasing the scope and intensity of the Making Excellence Inclusive program on campus, and (3) enhancing town-gown connections to increase opportunities for positive interactions between the campus and the city. Feedback over the past weeks confirms that these priorities are on the right track, and I have been especially gratified to see that those who responded expressed willingness to help with their time and effort as well as their words.

I also received a number of initial recommendations from the Committee for Inclusion and Diversity, a subcommittee of the Community Outreach Committee of the WSA; these recommendations emphasize social justice training and increased resources in academic and administrative areas that facilitate deeper understanding of social justice issues. The committee plans to continue developing its recommendations and to publish them independently next semester. I also take note of the groundswell of support among faculty for better understanding of such issues as sexual harassment and hurtful behavior stemming from insensitivity to differences based upon race and socio-economic background. Faculty, students, and the administration are all moving forward, if sometimes on separate tracks, to make our campus more inclusive.

Next steps for the administration with regards to the three priorities above include:

(1)   Public Safety:  Reconstitute and review PSAFE advisory committee; review alert protocols so to avoid giving the impression of targeting any particular group; engage outside consultants to conduct a comprehensive review of the department.

(2)   Making Excellence Inclusive: Conduct Campus Climate survey; make Diversity the theme of new-student orientation; reinforce focus of Vice President for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer on campus culture; continue (and track) MEI  training; focus on pipeline issues (McNair, Mellon, Upward Bound).

(3)   Town-Gown: The Vice President for Finance and Administration will convene a committee to look at opportunities to increase positive interactions between campus and the city.

As I indicated two weeks ago, I will give a report on the progress we make in these areas just after spring break, and then we can schedule another forum to discuss what has (and has not) been accomplished. The desire to build a more inclusive and caring community here at Wesleyan is sincere, and we will now take positive steps to do just that.


Conversations, Consultation and Feeling Thankful

This past weekend, the Board of Trustees was in town for its annual November meeting. Some trustees arrived Thursday to attend classes, and in the evening they met with a group of faculty over dinner to discuss skill building and career preparation. I had the pleasure of seeing a group of inspired students and Rinde Eckert in the Theater Department’s production of The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy. I went with Kari, who had been in conversation with Rinde about the human/animal distinction for the last several months. It was an extraordinary evening, the product of great teamwork, extensive preparation, and intense performance. I was so thankful to be there and to be part of a university where this kind of work takes place.

On Friday morning, a group of women on the faculty got together with the women on the Board of Trustees. I’m told that they had very productive conversations about the challenges facing women on our campus, and that they will continue to try to find ways to make our campus a place of true gender equality. During the day on Friday, trustees, along with faculty and student representatives to the Board, worked in committees on topics ranging from energy to the honor code, from fundraising for financial aid to the use of online courses to expand the reach of our educational mission. At the end of the afternoon, several board members met in an open meeting with a few dozen students to discuss financial aid. There were good questions raised, I thought, that clarified many of the issues we’ve been discussing since February. Over dinner that night, we celebrated newly elected trustees emeriti, and student, faculty and staff accomplishments. It was a joyful evening. Reading through the remarkable work that students were doing, I felt thankful that Wesleyan continues to attract and nurture such talent.

The Board concluded its work on Saturday, and we spent a good deal of time talking about the issues that had arisen at last week’s forum on diversity. We didn’t come up with a magical solution, but there was a commitment to continue to make our campus more inclusive. I headed to the gym with Sophie to get a little exercise, and then to watch the men’s basketball team (led by Derick Beresford ’13) win the Herb Kenny Tournament in convincing fashion. Dreisen Heath ’15 powered the women’s basketball team to a big win at St. Joseph’s tip-off tournament. The men host Williams tonight (Tuesday).

On Sunday evening, I was able to attend the first half of the African Students Association’s fall presentation. There were stirring performances of poetry, drumming, music and dance. I also learned a lot from the presentations. I left to attend the WSA meeting to go over our Board of Trustees discussions with the students gathered there for their weekly meeting. The student representatives spent hours (after I left) discussing key issues facing the university. We should all be thankful for their efforts.

My final meeting Sunday night was with more than 70 high school juniors and their alumni, staff and faculty parents, who are beginning the college search process. I could see the anxiety in some faces, and in some the hopeful anticipation of young people ready to begin a new stage in their lives. I extolled the virtues of liberal arts education today, and I emphasized that in our changing economy and culture this form of learning is more relevant than ever before. Looking around the room and thinking about my interaction with students over the last several days, I told the high school students that I hoped they would find a campus community where they were able to thrive, NOT because they were with people like themselves, but because they were in a diverse, dynamic and affectionate community from which they could learn. When they found such a community, I concluded, they would be very thankful. I know I am.

There will be plenty of work to do when we come back from break. For now, Happy Thanksgiving, Wesleyans!

Last Night’s Forum: Diversity University, In Theory and In Practice

Last night’s forum, Diversity University: In Theory and In Practice, was an intense, disturbing and enlightening experience for me, as I imagine it was for many others. I want to thank everyone who attended, and I especially want to thank the student organizers, the panel participants, and all those students who showed the courage to share their stories about their Wesleyan experiences. The emotional honesty and thoughtfulness I witnessed gives me hope that together we can create a more inclusive, supportive and inspiring campus culture.

Last night’s forum follows on the heels of campus discussions among a variety of student groups, the WSA, and participants in Making Excellence Inclusive (MEI). There are two other general forums planned in the near term: the first, on November 20th from 6-7pm, will be with the WSA Committee on Inclusion and Diversity.  The second, The Barriers that Inhibit Productive Dialogue About Race at Wesleyan, will be coordinated by Invisible Men, Asian American Student Collective, Ujamaa, and the WSA Committee for Inclusion and Diversity and moderated by Amy Tang and Lois Brown.

Between now and the end of the Thanksgiving, we will follow up on specific student issues raised last night, and we will develop a list of the most important policies on which we should be working. As I mentioned at the forum, I will send a draft list of the issues at the end of the month. Once I receive feedback on those priorities, I will assign staff to work with students and faculty on making progress in each area. Just after spring break I will give a progress report to the campus community, and then we can schedule another student forum to discuss what has (and has not) been accomplished.

It was difficult last night to realize that we have fallen short, and that I have fallen short, of my aspirations for making Wesleyan an inclusive campus for progressive liberal arts education. But it was good to be reminded of those shared aspirations. It was difficult (terribly difficult) to hear the accounts of disappointment, anger and pain. But it was good to see the solidarity and affection of members of our community as they reached out to comfort one another — with snapping fingers, with applause, with hugs. We will build on those aspirations and on the affectionate bonds that connect us as we work together to make Wesleyan an institution that values diversity in theory and in practice.


Moving Our Campus Community Forward

Today I emailed the following message to Wesleyan students:

As I sat nervously watching election returns Tuesday night, I wondered how the country would digest the outcome, whatever it turned out to be. This election cycle has been so bitter and brutish, would representatives be able to work together to get things done? Would we find ways to tackle the important problems that we all know are undermining our economy and our culture?

In his victory speech, President Obama evoked the spirit of service that he also spoke about in his Wesleyan Address at Commencement in 2008. He talked about the sacrifices that people make for one another in tough times, and about the shared hope for a better future that he believed would overcome our differences. “The task,” he said, “of perfecting our union moves forward.”

At Wesleyan this year we have seen our fair share of differences on issues ranging from teaching loads for visiting professors to the possibilities of building a small cogeneration plant for backup power in the event of emergencies. The most important issue that has sowed divisions has been our decision to allocate a defined amount of the budget for financial aid, which we expect will mean we are “need-blind” for about 90% of the entering class. I think this will allow us to meet the full needs of the students who are here, preserve diversity, and keep our debt levels low while restraining future tuition increases. Others think we are abandoning not just a technique for achieving diversity but a key principle. We have our differences.

We have been discussing these issues with students, faculty, alumni and staff, even as we try to raise more funds for financial aid. For the first time in its history, Wesleyan is entering a fundraising campaign whose highest priority is endowment for financial aid. I have been traveling around the country seeking support for this campaign, and alumni and parents have been responding with great generosity. Last year we secured more than 60 million dollars in gifts and pledges, and we are keeping up that pace this year. I believe that supporting financial aid is more important now than ever, and on this, I think, we agree.

Debates about financial aid have exposed divisions within our campus community. To ensure a sustainable economic model, some think we should raise tuition more aggressively, others think we should lay off staff or faculty, while others want to cut programs they deem less important to the student experience. I’ve been listening to and participating in these debates, and I’ll continue to do so. We have significant financial resources, and we have enormous talent on this campus. We will continue to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience while working within a sustainable economic model. We have our differences, but what unites us is far more important.

In a far uglier vein, recently some have tried to exploit or create divisions in our campus community by appealing to racism and hatred. In anonymous posts on websites known for their vulgarity, homophobia and misogyny, there have been racist comments posted about Wes students and Middletown residents. They are hurtful to students of color and to all who value diversity and inclusion.  I have not spoken out on this until now because I think such comments are beneath contempt.

Students have also raised concerns about recent campus security alerts that used racial identifications in describing alleged perpetrators. Were these more hurtful than useful? I have also heard complaints from students of color who feel marginalized or intimidated by certain aspects of our campus culture. We must make diversity meaningful on campus by creating a culture of inclusion. There is work to do.

On Monday night in Beckham Hall at 7:30 pm students have organized a forum to discuss issues of race and inclusion on campus. Sonia Manjon will moderate a panel on which I will participate with student and Public Safety representatives. I hope there will be a good turnout so that we can have a frank conversation about how we can create a campus climate in which all are treated with respect. More than that, we want a campus that builds on acceptance, creating bonds of affectionate solidarity.

The project of building this community is ongoing, and I am eager to help lead it. I want students to know that I am available to meet with any group, formal or informal. I have regular office hours on Monday afternoons, and scheduled sessions with the WSA, and Argus editors during the semester. I frequently meet with student groups at various times throughout the week. The open forums I’ve held with students have been candid exchanges, and I’ve learned much from them. I’m happy to hold additional meetings of that kind. I am eager to hear your views and find ways to join forces to enable our school live up to our aspirations for it.

I am continually inspired by the talent, energy and purpose of Wesleyan students – on stage, in athletic competitions, in classrooms, studios and research labs. We are not, to paraphrase President Obama, as divided as our politics sometime suggest. We are brought together in shared hope to ensure that Wesleyan will be a champion of progressive liberal arts education for generations to come. Together, we will move our campus community forward.

Financial Aid: Now More Than Ever

In my previous post, I described some of the steps Wesleyan is taking toward what I called “sustainable affordability.” One step is almost uncontroversial: we will no longer raise tuition rates in excess of inflation rates. Over time, this should mean that we will no longer be among the most expensive schools in the country. Some commentators have suggested that we more aggressively charge those families who can most afford to pay. I don’t think this is a serious option. We can (and we will) ask families with economic capacity to contribute to our financial aid scholarship funds.  Their philanthropy is more important than ever, but we will not build philanthropy into price.

The most controversial step I described was being only as “need-blind” as we can afford to be. Many people believe that being “need-blind” is a sign of quality — educational quality and moral quality. As I’ve said before, we could be “need-blind” and spend less money on scholarships. It’s easy for schools to choose metrics of student quality (like SAT scores) that correlate with wealth. They can say they are “need-blind” while having a more homogeneous student body. Schools can also remain “need-blind” by increasing loan levels or expected parental contribution. We will not do this.

This is what we will do: Wesleyan will continue to seek a diverse student body,  continue to meet full need, and continue to hold down student debt. We will continue actively to seek students who have great academic potential and very high need — families whose incomes make them eligible for our no-loan program, students who will receive full scholarships. And we will strive to find ways to make Wesleyan more affordable to middle class students. I am grateful for the suggestions in this regard in the blog comments, and we will study them and other ideas throughout the next academic year. These will be discussed on campus and with alumni in various parts of the country. Following up on suggestions in the comments, we will be making more of our financial planning documents available on the web as updates to the Wesleyan 2020 site.

The third step I described in my previous post is a three-year option for the BA. This idea has generated considerable discussion across the country. The three-year option may be an affordability choice for many students. It does not require overloads, nor does it steer folks to particular majors or jobs. The three-year option is not, though, for everyone, nor is it a form of financial aid. It’s a choice of how to get a great education in a more affordable way.

I want to be clear: As we increase our endowment levels, we will spend even more money on financial aid. Financial aid endowment and endowing key academic programs are the highest priorities for our fundraising efforts. Our generous parents and alumni have been donating tens of millions of dollars so that we can continue to meet the full economic needs of a very significant percentage of the Wesleyan student body. Labels aside, we are more dedicated than ever to supporting our students so that they can get the most out of their education. Labels aside, we will continue to use a holistic admissions process that strives to create a diverse class of talented students from different parts of the world, from all walks of life.

We will not pursue economic policies that undermine the long-term viability of alma mater. We want our university to be stronger over time, not for the sake of our endowment, but so that future generations can benefit from a Wesleyan education. Financial Aid — now more than ever.

We have been discussing these ideas about sustainable affordability over the last year with students, faculty, alumni and staff, and we will continue to gather ideas about how best to proceed. We do not expect these to be easy conversations. These questions can look very different from different perspectives. But to all of you who care deeply about Wesleyan, be assured that we will redouble our efforts to find ways to hold down costs, enhance diversity and increase support for scholarships. We want to increase access to Wesleyan not just for the near term, but also for the long term. Financial aid — now more than ever. Wesleyan — now more than ever.


Beyond Information Transfer: An Initiation into Lifelong Learning

Early May usually brings an unusually large number of press reports about higher education. Many high school seniors have just made their decisions about where they will be going to college, and those preparing to graduate from universities across the country are confronting transitions into an increasingly unwelcoming economy. Recently, there have been dozens of stories about whether those college years were worth the investment of time and money. Are American colleges and universities doing enough to prepare their graduates for the competitive world beyond the campus?

In this first week of May there were two stories that caught my eye. The first was on NPR, a media outlet usually pretty friendly to higher education. I know that many of its listeners, and almost all of its reporters, have benefited from broad educational experiences. The reporter on a recent story about liberal arts colleges, though, was wondering if we can still afford a wide-ranging, liberal education in our hyper-competitive world. Liberal arts schools, she said, “have long had a rap of being a kind of luxury, where learning is for learning’s sake, and not because understanding Aristotle will come in handy on the job one day. But economic pressures and changes in the world of higher education have now put them more on the defensive than ever.”

The reporter on the story is Tovia Smith, herself a graduate of Tufts University, a fine liberal arts school. Smith has covered or produced stories on an amazing range of topics,  from race relations to orphanages, from Clinton’s impeachment to Massachusetts prisons, “as well as regular features on cooking and movies.” I took this list from the NPR website, which also tells us that Smith taught journalism in Africa. Has learning for learning’s sake been a luxury for her, I wondered, or is it an integral part of her career and her life? She sure seems to have benefited from her Tufts education.

The second story that drew my attention was the announcement that Harvard and MIT were joining forces to offer “free online, college-level courses under a joint superbrand known as edX.” This is a great opening of access to the wealth of learning these universities possess. Both schools are among the most selective in the United States, and this venture means “Anyone with an Internet connection anywhere in the world can have access,’’ as Harvard president Drew Faust put it. The Cambridge powerhouses are inviting other schools to add their course materials to the platform they are developing, which will also allow researchers to study how students best learn online.

Where does this leave residential liberal arts schools? Nobody knows for sure how the availability of online courses will affect students’ interest in physically coming to a college to learn in a campus setting. Interest in attending MIT and Stanford has only grown as these universities have made course materials available online, and there is no sign that this new edX venture will reduce the desire to study in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That’s why the analogy between higher education and the newspaper business, drawn in this morning’s New York Times by the liberally educated David Brooks, doesn’t work. Nobody rushes out to buy the Times because they experienced it online.

Why is there still such a strong desire to be part of a diverse campus community when one can access content (often for free) in one’s own way at one’s own pace? It’s because a campus community still functions as a powerful catalyst for lifelong learning – and the ability to keep learning over a lifetime has never been so essential as it is today. Liberal arts education no longer draws on the cultivated homogeneity of a country club (or of the boardroom). Today selective schools create communities in which people learn from their differences while forming new modes of commonality. We don’t do this to be politically correct. We do it to prepare students to become lifelong learners who can navigate in and contribute to a heterogeneous world after graduation.

Our campuses should maximize each undergraduate’s ability to go beyond his or her comfort zone to learn from the most unexpected sources. By contrast, in the carefully curated online communities we create, we can reduce chances of surprise encounters, we can distance ourselves from sources with which we are unfamiliar. Our social networks are virtual, gated communities. We just filter out (or “unfriend”) the points of view we don’t want to hear. Our campuses, on the other hand, should be places where diversity leads to learning as our students come to see differences among people as a deep resource for solving problems and seeking opportunities. Online education can complement this educational environment very well. But it does not replace the need for it.

It’s early May, and as we prepare to welcome the class of 2016 and congratulate the grads of 2012, we should remember that their broadly-based, reflexive education is much more than information transfer. That kind of exchange can be done very well online. Our education, our immersion in communities of learning, is an initiation into a lifetime of learning, of solving problems, of creating opportunities, of experiencing the pleasures of the arts — and of participating in the public sphere.

Lifelong learning isn’t a luxury, although it does require investment. The investment enables our graduates to engage more fully with the world around them and exercise their responsibilities as citizens, to become shapers of the economy and culture of the future rather than be just spectators – or victims.

Why We Value Diversity

This week the Supreme Court voted to hear a challenge to the ability of colleges and universities to shape the racial and ethnic demographics of their student bodies. Currently, schools are allowed to use race as a factor among many others in achieving diversity for educational reasons. When the Court hears Fisher vs. the University of Texas, we may find that the justices set strict limits on how universities can consider race in their efforts to create an educational environment in which all students learn — and learn from one another.

Here at Wesleyan, we have for many years emphasized creating a diverse student body because we believe this results in a deeper educational experience. In the late 1960s President Victor Butterfield led the school away from cultivated homogeneity and toward creating a campus community in which people can learn from their differences while forming new modes of commonality. This had nothing to do with what would later be called political correctness or even identity politics. It had to do with preparing students to become lifelong learners who could navigate in and contribute to a heterogeneous world after graduation.

In our classrooms, students and teachers see the value of diversity throughout the semester. As David Kelley of IDEO and the Stanford Design School has noted time and time again, homogeneity kills creativity. The key to successful brainstorming and innovative teamwork is to have a multiplicity of perspectives. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman makes a similar point in his recent Thinking, Fast and Slow. Groups are beneficial for problem solving as long as they don’t degrade into following-the-leader; learning takes place when people bring a variety of perspectives to the issue at hand. If almost everyone is from the same background, you run the risk of substituting mere repetition for iterative cross-pollination.

At residential universities, homogeneity in the student body undermines our mission of helping students develop personal autonomy within a dynamic community. That’s why we are eager to welcome students from various parts of the United States and the rest of the world to our campuses. That’s why we ask our donors to support robust financial aid programs so as to ensure that our students come from a variety of economic backgrounds. A “dynamic community” is one in which members have to navigate difference — and racial and ethnic differences are certainly parts of the mix. All the students we admit have intellectual capacity, but we also want them to have different sorts of capacities. Their interests, modes of learning, and perspectives on the world should be sufficiently different from one another so as to promote active learning in and outside the classroom.

At Wesleyan our mission statement reminds us that we aim to prepare students “to explore the world with a variety of tools.” Diversity is an aspect of the world we expect our students to explore, turning it into an asset they can use. We expect graduates to have completed a course of study in the liberal arts that will enable them to see differences among people as a powerful tool for solving problems and seeking opportunities. We expect graduates to embrace diversity as a source of lifelong learning, personal fulfillment, and creative possibility. Selective universities want to shape a student body that maximizes each undergraduate’s ability to go beyond his or her comfort zone to draw on resources from the most familiar and the most unexpected places.

As the Supreme Court considers Fisher vs. the University of Texas, it is crucial that the justices continue to allow universities to consider race and ethnicity within a holistic admissions process that aims to create a student body that maximizes learning. University admissions programs are not the place to promote partisan visions of social justice, but they are the place to produce the most dynamic and profound learning environments. It would be an enormous step backward to force our admissions offices to retreat to a homogeneity that stifles creative, broad-based education.

cross-posted with Huffingtonpost