It’s easy to think of college campuses as islands ― academic havens with little interaction with the greater world beyond. In reality, the work done on the grounds of colleges and universities has a big impact on society, from medical breakthroughs to mass adoption of social change. It’s important then that U.S. institutions of higher learning are representative of society as a whole in their student bodies and staff. That’s easier said than done, of course, but multicultural representation on college campuses should be a top priority.
Beyond the boost a multicultural campus brings to the immediate student and faculty body, there are some things they can bring to the “real” after-college world, too.
Eliminating the wage gap
There is a gender wage gap and there is a minority wage gap. Unless you are a White male, you are probably making less than White males who do the same job as you. Some argue that the wage gap doesn’t exist but statistics show otherwise. The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that women make 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the United States. The racial pay gap varies, but in industries such as technology minority workers make $3,000 to $8,000+ less than their White counterparts.
Even if these numbers are not 100 percent accurate, they are telling of an overarching problem with the American workforce: people are not paid equally. By having more diversity in the amount of highly educated workers, Americans have a better shot at getting rid of the nasty wage gap for good. Not only will these educated workers be more apt to ask for what they are worth, but it stands to reason that more diversity will emerge in positions of leadership (i.e., those that make salary decisions).
Feeding diversity into the professional workforce goes a long way toward pay equality and ups the standard of living for minorities and women.
Getting rid of discrimination
Racial tensions have spiked in the past year or so around the country, accented by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. Though a lot of people like to believe that discrimination is no longer an issue in the United States, these incidents and reactions to them highlight just how much more work needs to be done to eliminate prejudices, injustice and discrimination between races.
In my experience, it is easier to judge and alienate hypothetical people that you have never actually met. Once you’ve spent some time with the very people you once judged, it becomes more difficult to not view them as equals.
Unfortunately when it comes to our nation’s public schools, diversity is difficult to achieve in districted areas. Kids go to school alongside their neighbors ― people who often look like them, have a similar socioeconomic background and who have the same basic life experience.
Colleges and universities are able to break out of this mold and can be the first pass at diversity students experience. It’s important to maximize that opportunity by making sure not just campuses, but individual programs, are well represented with students from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is harder to discriminate against a friend and colleague than a nameless ideal of a person.
Stronger U.S. competition on the world stage
The more ideas brought to a discussion, the better the chance of a good one. When a variety of perspectives are pooled, innovation and creativity emerge. Nations such as Japan have always had an academic edge, but Americans often win out because of the one thing that just can’t be taught: visionary thinking.
When everyone brings the same experience to a problem, there will be less ways to solve it. A diverse college body means a more diverse workforce after graduation. This helps everyone. When the United States succeeds on the world stage, Americans all benefit.
Diversity matters on college campuses and not just for the benefit of those institutions. Could the next generation of college grads be the one to help the United States surge ahead of world competitors through collective creativity? To eliminate the wage gap? To put an end to discrimination? All of these accomplishments are on the horizon in the United States ― and colleges and universities can give them all a boost by fostering multiculturalism and diversity on campuses.