In light of the Supreme Court’s recent affirmative action decision, we, as members of the Amherst College faculty, affirm our belief that diversity, in particular racial diversity, brings educational benefits not only for the students in our courses, but also for us as teachers and researchers. We recognize the need to address the historical ravages of institutional racism throughout our society and the importance of doing so in the work we do as educators.
For centuries, students and teachers have gathered together to serve higher education’s highest purpose: the intergenerational pursuit of truth. Because truth is best tested in free and open scholarly discussion, and because the best discussions involve a plurality of perspectives and voices, institutions of higher learning should always insist on the greatest possible degree of diversity in their students and professors.
Diversity is thus more than just a “commendable goal” that a college or university may or may not decide to strive for. It is a core principle of all genuine higher learning. It is a nonnegotiable precondition for any real pursuit of truth. It is central to the profession to which we’ve dedicated our lives.
Our experience at Amherst confirms these basic axioms. It is our conclusion that diversity is indispensable for the vitality and vibrancy of our classrooms. It helps everyone when students use their varied life experiences to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions, offer fresh and often unexpected perspectives on course materials, and resist “group think.” The talents that students from all walks of life and from traditionally marginalized racial groups bring to the academic work we ask them to do are extraordinary.
We therefore agree with what the college says in its impressive amicus brief in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard (the recent affirmative action case): “diversity—including racial diversity—meaningfully improves learning experiences, complex thinking, and non-cognitive abilities. … [E]ncounters with others holding different views and possessing different backgrounds train and sharpen students’ minds to a greater degree. … These benefits are shared by all students, regardless of race.”
We see these benefits every day. They are real, tangible, important, and indispensable and requisite for human enrichment. Despite what the Supreme Court has said, we know firsthand that students from racially marginalized backgrounds have much to offer the college in general and the faculty in particular.
Not only do students benefit from diversity in their classes. We do as well.
The range of student backgrounds and the insights they enable invariably pushes us in our own thinking. Students’ diversity requires us to be more versatile and inventive in the ways we teach our courses. It obliges us to be more attentive to the various ways that ideas are heard and interpreted. It spurs us to question the dogmas we’ve unwittingly accepted and the biases we’ve unwittingly inherited. It keeps us alive, awake, and alert to the experiences of novelty and unpredictability. It provides a welcome reminder that “the pursuit of truth is as unending as the universe is inexhaustible.” And all of this, in turn, makes all of us better scholars.
We want our students to know that diversity, in all its dimensions, makes us better in every respect. We want them to know that diversity is a longstanding educational ideal because it’s a good ideal, and that good ideals stand the test of time. Above all, we want them to know that we are grateful to them, not despite but because of their backgrounds, for everything they contribute to each other and to us.
Signed by the following members of the faculty of Amherst College:
C. Rhonda Cobham-Sander
Rosalina de la Carrera
Solsiree Del Moral
Mithi Alexa (Mia) de los Reyes
Frank Leon Roberts
David E. Schneider
Paul Schroeder Rodriguez
Rebecca Stephens Falcasantos
Christopher van den Berg
Timothy Van Compernolle