Campus diversity needs to encompass more than just race


National Post, 06 September 2019

Measuring disadvantage directly rather than using race makes sense. And it is a sign of progress.

It’s September, and university students are back on campus. But who exactly is on campus?

It’s been 30 years since I arrived on campus as an undergraduate, and who is on campus has changed over that time. There were plenty of female undergrads when I arrived, but now they are a majority of undergraduates in the arts, and nearing or above parity in the sciences and professional schools. The racial composition has changed, too, with far more “visible minorities” on campus now, both Canadian and foreign students. Very often they are not a minority anymore. In particular, Canadians of Asian descent and foreign students from Asia — particularly China — constitute a large majority in some programs and classes.

University admissions are competitive and some schools can be very selective. At the same time, for several generations now Canadian universities have aimed at increasing the representation of women, and racial diversity, on campus. At the beginning that was not very difficult to do; give some kind of preferential treatment to female and non-white applicants and enhance the diversity of the incoming class.

Now it’s more complicated. Female students in general do not need preferential consideration; they already outperform boys in high school. The racial bit is trickier. Competitive admissions, without any “affirmative action” adjustments, produce a certain kind of Canadian diversity — lots of Asians, not as many blacks and Aboriginal Canadians. But even after whatever adjustments might be made, the over-representation of Asian students relative to their share of the population remains.

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