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When Diversity Drops: Race, Religion, and Affirmative Action in Higher Education

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Julie J. Park examines how losing racial diversity in a university affects the everyday lives of its students. She uses a student organization, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at “California University,” as a case study to show how reductions in racial diversity impact the ability of students to sustain multiethnic communities. The story documents IVCF’s evolut Julie J. Park examines how losing racial diversity in a university affects the everyday lives of its students. She uses a student organization, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at “California University,” as a case study to show how reductions in racial diversity impact the ability of students to sustain multiethnic communities. The story documents IVCF’s evolution from a predominantly white group that rarely addressed race to the most racially diverse campus fellowship at the university. However, its ability to maintain its multiethnic membership was severely hampered by the drop in black enrollment at California University following the passage of Proposition 209, a statewide affirmative action ban. Park demonstrates how the friendships that students have—or do not have—across racial lines are not just a matter of personal preference or choice; they take place in the contexts that are inevitably shaped by the demographic conditions of the university. She contends that a strong organizational commitment to diversity, while essential, cannot sustain racially diverse student subcultures. Her work makes a critical contribution to our understanding of race and inequality in collegiate life and is a valuable resource for educators and researchers interested in the influence of racial politics on students’ lives.


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Julie J. Park examines how losing racial diversity in a university affects the everyday lives of its students. She uses a student organization, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at “California University,” as a case study to show how reductions in racial diversity impact the ability of students to sustain multiethnic communities. The story documents IVCF’s evolut Julie J. Park examines how losing racial diversity in a university affects the everyday lives of its students. She uses a student organization, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at “California University,” as a case study to show how reductions in racial diversity impact the ability of students to sustain multiethnic communities. The story documents IVCF’s evolution from a predominantly white group that rarely addressed race to the most racially diverse campus fellowship at the university. However, its ability to maintain its multiethnic membership was severely hampered by the drop in black enrollment at California University following the passage of Proposition 209, a statewide affirmative action ban. Park demonstrates how the friendships that students have—or do not have—across racial lines are not just a matter of personal preference or choice; they take place in the contexts that are inevitably shaped by the demographic conditions of the university. She contends that a strong organizational commitment to diversity, while essential, cannot sustain racially diverse student subcultures. Her work makes a critical contribution to our understanding of race and inequality in collegiate life and is a valuable resource for educators and researchers interested in the influence of racial politics on students’ lives.

38 review for When Diversity Drops: Race, Religion, and Affirmative Action in Higher Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elina Salminen

    This book is an ethnographic study of an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter Julie J. Park studied at an unspecified "UC." She interviewed previous and current members and attended meetings to trace how the organization went from predominantly White to intentionally pursuing a goal of diversification to being predominantly Asian American. She weaves the interviews and observations together with broader structural changes at UC and the US. The case-study is fascinating because of its many f This book is an ethnographic study of an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter Julie J. Park studied at an unspecified "UC." She interviewed previous and current members and attended meetings to trace how the organization went from predominantly White to intentionally pursuing a goal of diversification to being predominantly Asian American. She weaves the interviews and observations together with broader structural changes at UC and the US. The case-study is fascinating because of its many facets: the role of religious identity; the tension some of the Asian American members feel between their positions as marginalized "model minorities" and the majority (and culturally dominant) group in the Fellowship; how a drop in Black enrollment at UC meant that good intentions to "learn more about each other" resulted in non-Black students ambushing Black students to learn about their experiences; how it IS possible to increase diversity by intentionally and persistently centering it as a goal and being explicit about it - but only to a point. Even so, the limitations of a case-study are a bit frustrating to the general reader. I was hoping to learn more about the role of affirmative action, for example. Julie J. Park has been an expert consultant on recent court cases regarding affirmative action and race-conscious admissions. I'd say my expectations were unfair since the book is based on her dissertation work pre-dating her court involvement by many years, but the subtitle does include the phrase "affirmative action." As it turns out, Park doesn't talk about affirmative action very much, apart from noting that the structural homogeneity that resulted from Prop 209 in California made maintaining organizational diversity more difficult. She also observes a change in discussions on race at the Fellowship: the students go from having candid, sometimes painful discussions to mostly "calm" conversations. She does acknowledge that this might partly be because in a more homogeneous group, it's easier to talk calmly (especially about "the Other," perhaps), but then concludes that students are just more used to diverse communities these days and can talk about race with more ease. This seems unlikely to me, and one wonders about the role of political correctness, hesitancy to discuss difficult subjects in a candid manner, etc. In other words, it's a book on a relevant, important topic, but I was left wanting a bit more. I look forward to reading some of her more recent work to see if she has expanded on her case-study.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emil

    It was a great piece of observation of the dynamics of student organizations, the struggles they had as a religious organization to make racial reconciliation a priority, and the challenges of maintaining that focus with changing demographics while also keeping its uniqueness as an organization with other alternate groups of its kind out there.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Diversity and inclusion are big buzz words in higher education circles. Most of the time, efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are university sponsored. What Julie Park does is study the unusual instance where a campus organization on its own initiative pursues a diversity initiative, moving from a mostly white and Asian-American group to one incorporating significant numbers of African-American and Latino/a students. The group? InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at "California University" Diversity and inclusion are big buzz words in higher education circles. Most of the time, efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are university sponsored. What Julie Park does is study the unusual instance where a campus organization on its own initiative pursues a diversity initiative, moving from a mostly white and Asian-American group to one incorporating significant numbers of African-American and Latino/a students. The group? InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at "California University" (a pseudonym to provide anonymity to the group as well as students involved in this study). This book is based on her doctoral research project studying this group. Beginning in the years after the LA riots in 1992 this group pursued an increasingly deliberate agenda to become more diverse ethnically. Staff leaders took risks, there was more regular teaching on racial reconciliation that grounded this in a biblical rather than "political correctness" agenda, frank and sometimes emotion fraught "Race Matters" sessions were launched, and intentional efforts were made to reach new students across ethnic lines. Julie Park chronicles the up and down difficult journey toward increasing ethnic diversity through a series of interviews with students, staff, and alumni involved with the group during this period. Cutting across this trend to increasing diversity was the passage of Proposition 209, that mandated "color blind" admissions policies at the state's universities. This led to a precipitous drop in African-American admissions and a continuing rise in Asian-American admissions. And what she found was that this constrained the InterVarsity's group to continue to achieve the kind of ethnic diversity it had previously achieved, despite having a multi-ethnic team of campus workers. This occurred both through restricting the pool of African American students from which they could recruit (in one year, only 96 African American students were admitted). It also created a new majority among Asian-American students. This also required a renewed process of aligning vision and strategies to reach students of other ethnicity. While it is clear that Park at many points is very impressed with the InterVarsity group's efforts to increase diversity, she also doesn't flinch at noting their failures and miscues, including a very explosive "Race Matters" session that actually set their reconciliation efforts back, or an instance of "vision creep" where a relaxed focus on multi-ethnic outreach led to a drop in diversity. She gives us a well-written, carefully researched narrative of what it takes to change the culture of a group around race and ethnicity. This is an important book both for those who work in collegiate ministry and for those concerned with higher education admissions policies. Groups like InterVarsity provide a voluntary meeting place where students can gain a greater vision for relationships across the ethnic lines that we draw throughout American society. If laws and admissions policies decrease these opportunities (which rarely happen in the church or other societal structures), where will they happen? And what should we conclude about the disparity of admissions by ethnicity? That is complicated but one thing is clear, at least to me. We are not operating from a level playing field, which seems to be the assumption of "color blind" laws and admissions policies.

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    Kate

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    Anh Murphy

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    Doriswatson watson

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    John Tan

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