"Engaging Diversity: More Important Than Ever," Nancy Cantor Distinguished Lectureship on Intellectual Diversity
Three key challenges compel the United States to deepen and to cement its engagement with diversity in higher education. One, the demographic challenge: The United States will be a majority-minority country sometime around 2045. That new reality will oblige us to talk and solve problems across ethnic/racial communities and other dissimilarities. Colleges and universities will continue to be the primary venues where dialogue and collaborative skills can be fostered. Short of major changes in racial/ethnic residential patterns and urban-rural divisions, K-12 schools will continue to be highly segregated, minimizing possibilities for younger people to gain intercultural skills. Two, the democracy challenge: All members of society must be offered a place at the table of community and political discourse. The dramatic increase in economic inequality and a corresponding drop in upward mobility in the U.S. has given rise to political fault-lines drawn between the “haves” and “have-nots.” Now more than ever, the United States requires leaders who are comfortable and effective crossing class, racial/ethnic, rural-urban boundaries to create inclusive political communities of people from all walks of life. Third, the dispersion challenge: In what Fareed Zakaria calls “the rise of the rest,” many other nations are growing economically and demanding to share leadership and power in the world. Higher education is the primary institution for teaching the world’s historical and cultural knowledge, and for assuring that future U.S. leaders are equipped to negotiate, collaborate and dialogue across differences.
This lecture will delineate the importance of engaging diversity so that higher education produces leaders who can address these demographic, democracy, and dispersion challenges. Professor Gurin will present social science evidence on the educational benefit of diversity that has played a role in legal challenges to affirmative action. She will draw especially from a large-scale, multi-university experimental study of intergroup dialogue, a program, first launched in the 1990s at the University of Michigan, that has spread across many colleges and universities here and abroad, to teach the kinds of sentiments and skills that people will increasingly need in order to be effective leaders in 2lst century global relationships.