Diversity in the Classroom Directly Linked to Diversity in the Workplace
The big question at the heart of the affirmative action case before the Supreme Court, Fisher v. Texas, is whether colleges and university needs to consider race in their admissions process in order to create a diverse and inclusive environment that will benefit all students. To help answer this question, The Supreme Court Justices focused on diversity not just at the university level but in individual classrooms which led to a question: Why does diversity matter in a science class?
In my book, So You Think You Can Teach: A Guide for The New College Professor On How to Teach Adult Learners, I discuss how diversity and inclusion are important especially in those college classes in which there are no minority students and I explain the benefits of diversity in those situations.
The Supreme Court’s previous rulings on affirmative action say it’s constitutional to consider race in college admissions in order to achieve the educational benefits of diversity for all students — not to benefit students of color specifically. Many of the arguments about those broad benefits have been about discussion-based classes in the social sciences and humanities, where students’ backgrounds could influence their perspective and contributions. In general, most math and science classes don’t always work that way, so my interpretation of the Supreme Court’s question is whether student diversity in college classrooms and campuses still makes a difference to colleges and universities since that’s the test an affirmative action program has to meet.
Diversity in the science classroom is good for colleges and companies
Sometimes there are direct educational benefits: A study of students in medical school found that white students studying at more diverse colleges and universities were better prepared than their peers at less diverse schools to meet the needs of patients of different races. But there are also broader reasons why having more students of color in the classroom is important. Minority students are particularly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This underrepresentation can create a vicious cycle: Students don’t have mentors and role models of their race, they don’t feel they belong in their classroom or department, and they don’t have a support system. Consequently, they are more likely to change majors. For example, thirty-six percent of black students who entered college as STEM majors change their mind before graduation, a higher rate than any other racial group, according to a 2013 study from the National Center for Educational Statistics. This results in lower number of Blacks graduating from engineering programs and entering the workforce.
More diverse classrooms and better support systems can help stop that attrition, the National Academy of Sciences, a group of leading researchers, has argued. They also ensure that the math and science talent of students finds its way into high paying jobs in corporate America where they are desperately needed.