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16 April 2014

Western Washington University: "diversity = anti-white"?

Western Washington University got launched into the right-wing (and racist! and Glenn Beck!) blogosphere yesterday, when the conservative advocacy site Campus Reform published an article titled "University calls the amount of white people on campus a ‘failure,’ asks for ideas on how to have fewer". Yikes! But let's dig deeper.

Some choice bits from the article:
The question, released through the communications and marketing department's daily newsletter Western Today, comes on the heels of admonishments given in multiple convocation addresses by WWU President Bruce Shepard for the university’s “failure” to be less white.

And in a recent blog post on WWU’s website, Shepard echoes these sentiments, saying those who do not agree “have not thought through the implications of what is ahead for us or, more perniciously, assume we can continue unchanged.”
Now, you might be inclined to follow the link to Pres. Shepard's original blog post, where he continues (at length!) about the rationale behind his statement:
Several of those who wrote to me of their concern about my statement that “we fail if we remain overwhelmingly white” thought I was advocating a policy of “letting in” minorities and thereby keeping out "equally deserving whites."  I thought that strange, for no such plan had ever occurred to me.  Then, I spotted a reason for the confusion.

Some apparently thought we have a choice here: that we can continue as we are.  So, one might then conclude that any change to more reflect the diversity of our state would require manipulation of our admissions policies.

But, continuing as we are is not an option.
(Emphasis mine.) The key points here are: first, that Shepard is not proposing a change in the admissions policies towards a quota system or anything as silly as that; second, that this is about demographic realities, not any sort of social-justice fantasy about keeping Whitey down.

Shepard continues:
We could choose, I suppose, to go the route of being a much smaller, elite-serving, almost entirely liberal arts college.  That could be made to work financially.  But, it is sure not why I (and I am sure you) chose to be in public higher education.  It would be a total abandonment of our admirable mission.

One choice we do not have: to stick our heads in the sand. 

Were we to do so, we could go awhile longer, watching tuition revenues decline, slowly at first but then rapidly.  And, with revenue declines, we would start on a relentless slide toward mediocrity.  Probably would be able to make it past the time I decide to retire, perhaps the same for you.  But, those who follow would justifiably curse us for our irresponsibility.

Note the direction of this causal arrow: Should we fail in our efforts to reflect the diversity increasingly enriching our state, then Western is relentlessly driven toward mediocrity.
Before any arguments can be made about how cultural diversity enriches an academic environment (an argument I'm sympathetic to), one has to consider the basic economic calculus. Here's the demographic data for Washington State as of the 2012 census:

 Meanwhile, here's the demographic breakdown of WWU students as of Fall 2012:
You can see that WWU is only slightly over-represented by non-Hispanic white students with respect to the state at large: 76.2% of WWU students versus 71.6% of Washington residents. Yet, for example, Hispanic or Latino students are only half as represented at WWU than in the state: 6.1% of WWU students versus 11.7% of Washington residents. Similarly black students (1.7% students versus 3.9% residents) and American Indian / Native Alaskan (0.8% students versus 1.8% residents)... the only truly overrepresented group being multiracial students (6.3% versus 4.3% Washington residents).

Considering that the Hispanic and Latino is projected to grow quite a bit over the next decade or two, it would be suicide for Western to not try to get ahead of that curve and ramp up outreach in those communities. It's not about instating quotas. It's about making sure nobody falls through the cracks, who's committed to get a college education. Too often there are socioeconomic barriers to that.

If Western does nothing but try to preserve its own demographic status quo, that majority-white student population will be drawn from a smaller and smaller share of the population. Not only is that tuition money foregone, but inevitably a decline in quality of education for everyone involved. And Western's mission is to be a public university serving the entire state, not just a preferred segment.

Now I'm not an uncritical friend of the social-justice warriors, but this seems like a case of someone no longer being the center of the party simply because more people showing up: nothing but the spotlight-by-default (yes, the privilege) was "taken away." Now (shock!) we just have to get used to each other.

UPDATE (04/20/2014): And now our campus was treated to some racist assholes right across from the Viking Union, and apparently plastering their racist agitprop on campus buildings. Twitter users (and, I'm guessing, fellow WWU students) @_justinparson and @charmaineriley shared the following photos.

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