by Christopher Paslay
On Friday, March 11, the Philadelphia Bar Association gave U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor their Diversity Award for her lifelong commitment to diversity and social justice. The ceremony was held at the Hyatt at The Bellevue on Broad and Walnut streets.
Sotomayor said inequality in education was the most pressing issue facing diversity today.
“Until we solve the structural problems that make an equal education available in public and private institutions, we will not be able to reach diversity in society,” she told the audience.
Sotomayor makes a good point. Education is indeed a big factor in bringing about a democratic society representative of all races and social classes. A good way to bring about such diversity would be to start with addressing the structural problems that exist within the institutions that serve as the gatekeepers to a large majority of America’s wealth and power—the nation’s elite colleges and universities.
In 21st century America, a degree from an Ivy League college or other such prestigious university not only levels the playing field but provides valuable opportunities not available to the average American; Sotomayor, who attended Princeton, Yale Law School, and went on to teach at Columbia Law School, is a prime example.
Yet gaining admittance into these schools and becoming a part of this elite power structure is nearly impossible for the vast majority of Americans, especially minorities and the socioeconomic disadvantaged.
To truly open the doors to our nation’s wealth and power, those in academia truly interested in diversity and social justice should heed Sotomayor’s advice and fight to enact the following measures:
Overhaul Admission Standards. The nation’s best universities shouldn’t be limited to those students born with elite linguistic and mathematical intelligences. Discriminating against children born with average math and verbal skills is no way to bring about social justice.
Cap Tuition. Not every socioeconomic disadvantaged child will receive a scholarship to go to school. Likewise, not all disadvantaged children will be able to find a co-signer for a student loan worth a quarter of a million dollars.
Stop Price Gouging with Textbooks. Paying upwards of $250 for a single trade-paperback textbook is not an option for a disadvantaged student.
Require University Presses and Academic Journals to Publish Diverse Writers. There are many talented writers in America today. Limiting the nation’s elite academic journals and university presses to those with Ivy League credentials is no way to respect the voice of the disenfranchised.
Respect and Acknowledge Work From Diverse Researchers. Reports complied by researchers not affiliated with America’s elite colleges and universities should no longer be ignored or marginalized.
Exploring these measures might go a very long way in bringing about true diversity and social justice in 21st century America. Of course, the question remains if America’s academic elite truly want to share the wealth and power, or simply talk about social equality.
Christopher Paslay is a Philadelphia schoolteacher. His new book, The Village Proposal: Education as Shared Responsibility, will be published in the fall of 2011 by Rowman & Littlefield.