On the Educational Value of Diversity

In the wake of a Supreme Court decision banning affirmative action, the college’s faculty argue that diversity is crucial for education, in a letter signed by 144 faculty members.

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:

Arianne Abela

Ryan Alvarado

Gabriel Arboleda

Daniel Barbezat

Amrita Basu

Robert Benedetto

Rachel Bernard

Anston Bosman

Ellen Boucher

Stefan Bradley

Sara Brenneis

Kristin Bumiller

Sandra Burkett

Gregory Call

Dwight Carey

Ashley Carter

Stephen Cartier

Michael Ching

Nusrat Chowdhury

Alicia Christoff

Catherine Ciepiela

Sonya Clark

C. Rhonda Cobham-Sander

Amy Coddington

Ivan Contreras

Javier Corrales

Katharine Correia

Nicola Courtright

Frank Couvares

David Cox

Harris Daniels

Rosalina de la Carrera

Solsiree Del Moral

Mithi Alexa (Mia) de los Reyes

David Delaney

Amy Demorest

Andrew Dole

Christopher Dole

Lawrence Douglas

Thomas Dumm

Christopher Durr

Marc Edwards

Jeffers Engelhardt

Lorne Falk

Kate Follette

Vanessa Fong

Judith Frank

Kristy Gardner

Jyl Gentzler

Deborah Gewertz

Heidi Gilpin

Mekhola Gomes

Caroline Goutte

Frederick Griffiths

Christopher Grobe

Victor Guevara

Joshua Guilford

David Hall

David Hansen

Tekla Harms

Darryl Harper

Allen Hart

Maria Heim

Aneeka Henderson

Elizabeth Herbin-Triant

Rebecca Hewitt

Jerome Himmelstein

Hannah Holleman

Nicholas Holschuh

Adam Honig

Nicholas Horton

Joshua Hyman

Catherine Infante

Tariq Jaffer

Jagu Jagannathan

Jeeyon Jeong

David Jones

Kirun Kapur

Katrina Karkazis

Justin Kimball

Christopher Kingston

Elizabeth Kneeland

Michael Kunichika

Ron Lembo

Adam Levine

Jared Loggins

Russell Lohse

William Loinaz

Kristin Luschen

Jen Manion

Anna Martini

Trent Maxey

Julia McQuade

Molly Mead

Edward Melillo

Joseph Moore

Klara Moricz

Sanam Nader-Esfahani

Ingrid Nelson

Victoria Nguyen

Susan Niditch

Patricia O’Hara

Jacob Olshansky

Carolyn Palmquist

Jaeyoon Park

Khary Polk

Alexandra Purdy

Kerry Ratigan

Ashwin Ravikumar

Kristina Reardon

Monica Ringer

Frank Leon Roberts

Jason Robinson

Paul Rockwell

Christian Rogowski

Geoffrey Sanborn

Catherine Sanderson

Austin Sarat

Eric Sawyer

Leah Schmalzbauer

David E. Schneider

Paul Schroeder Rodriguez

Matthew Schulkind

Krupa Shandilya

Jessica Sidman

Raphaël Sigal

Adam Sitze

Natasha Staller

Ilan Stavans

Rebecca Stephens Falcasantos

Josef Trapani

Sarah Turgeon

Christopher van den Berg

Timothy Van Compernolle

Olufemi Vaughan

Niko Vicario

Kiara Vigil

Amy Wagaman

Vanessa Walker

Boris Wolfson

Wendy Woodson

Amelia Worsley

Lei Ying

Li Zhang