Saturday, April 26, 2014

A New Diversity Working Construct

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling upholding Michigan's ban on affirmative action, the storm has not quieted. It is time to move on though, yet not without pondering on a new diversity working construct that affirms and is more sensitive to others' differences: racial, cultural, linguistic, beliefs, customs, gender, sexual identity and the like.

It is time to realize the concept of diversity can mean differently from one individual to another, from people to people; hence diversity approach also differs. The question is, can there be diversity working without affirmative action? It makes sense to call for a better way to achieve diversity.

SC Ruling on Michigan Ban on Affirmative Action

A news report describes how the decision revealed deep divisions among the justices over the government’s role in protecting minorities. Justice Sotomayor wrote in her impassioned dissent the initiative put minorities to a burden not faced by other college applicants. “The one and only policy a Michigan citizen may not seek through this long-established process,” she wrote, “is a race-sensitive admissions policy.” That difference, she said, violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

In contrast, the report continues, Justice Anthony Kennedy defended the controlling opinion: “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” he wrote, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.” 

 The bottomline is, according to the SC decision, it is the people who decide how to manage the issue of race in college admissions.

Reactions to Affirmative Action

It is clear affirmative action, whose main aim is for “equal protection” has been seen more negatively than otherwise, by many -- but for the oft-marginalized groups, they see it as their only means of leverage -- to have equal access to education and employment opportunities.

One opinion on this goes to say “equal protection” transformed into a mandate for race discrimination by morphing affirmative action into diversity and declaring diversity a state purpose important enough to justify racial preferences.
A personal observation comes from Mercedes Vromant, of Canton, Michigan, “There is good and bad to it just like anything else and if one group is favored, the other suffers,” she said. “Then people think they are entitled to something and abuse the system which ends up unfair to the majority. There should be an equal playing field and diversity.” She added that she believes in diversity, but with equality.

This was acknowledged by SC Justice Sonia Sotomayor who, as reported by Washington Post, wrote that she was not going to use the term “affirmative action” because of its connotation of “intentional preferential treatment” such as quotas, because the court has outlawed such practices. Instead, she called it a system of “race-sensitive admissions policies.”

Realities that Can Ground People's Understanding of Diversity

Some say the more "diverse" a place is, the more people self segregate, usually right along racial lines. Forced camaraderie works about as well as forced gratitude or forced apologies. In fact, studies show the same result. 
On the other hand, Dr. Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture, School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in one of her papers, noted that many educators and the schools in which they work are ill-prepared for diversity: white, middle-class, monolingual English-speaking women and men who have had little direct experience with cultural, ethnic, linguistic or other kinds of diversity, but they are teaching students who are phenomenally diverse in every way. Read more at 

An article on diversity, 'Chapter 12: Managing Diversity in the Workplace' offers a clear definition of diversity, and suggests managing diversity is a better option to affirmative action. It defines
  • Managing diversity as focusing on maximizing the ability of all employees to contribute to rganizational goals.
  • Affirmative action focuses on specific groups because of historical discrimination, such as people of color and women.
  • Affirmative action emphasizes legal necessity and social responsibility; managing diversity emphasizes business necessity.
  • In short, while managing diversity is also concerned with underrepresentation of women and people of color in the workforce, it is much more inclusive and acknowledges that diversity must work for everyone.
Moving our frame of reference from what may be our default view ("our way is the best way") to a diversity-sensitive perspective ("let's take the best of a variety of ways") will help us to manage more effectively in a diverse work environment. Read more at
The aforementioned suggestion can also be applied in schools and communities. By managing diversity, a more affirming diversity takes place, a more socially just society is created.

Finally, to have diversity working in education, in the workplace, and in the general society, diversity values need to be inculcated by every individual, young and old alike. To do so, developing a clearer, more encompassing view of the world around us is absolutely necessary. This helps
  • Develop greater insight into our interconnectedness.
  • Expand our awareness of different perspectives.
  • Enhance our self-awareness.

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