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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Creativity required to solve issues of diversity

The word ""diversity"" has always drawn crowds and sparked discussions. Last Thursday, the UW community held a conference on campus diversity. Hundreds of people shared their opinions on the idea of ""Inclusive Excellence."" The heated exchange lasted all day long, but most of the talks were limited to racial and ethnic diversity. Even though this is the centerpiece of the whole diversity ideal, such a narrow interpretation might compromise UW's efforts to diversify itself.

Granted, the university has recently made some progress in increasing diversity. UW-Madison now offers over 80 modern and ancient languages. The department of Scandinavian Studies, for example, offers four languages alone. This is good evidence of cultural diversity on campus. Also, after years of endeavoring, UW finally gained the authority to provide domestic partner benefits to faculty and staff. Yet despite these improvements, UW's overall climate of diversity hasn't improved much. Even on the ""focal point"" of race and ethnicity, the current ratio of minority students remains almost the same as it was four years ago.

A key reason for the status quo is Plan 2008. Ten years ago, UW administrators passed this ambitious blueprint to boost diversity on campus. But besides increasing the sheer number of minority students, Plan 2008 offered no concrete solutions to the issue. A decade later we are still doing the simple calculation made by Plan 2008: diversity equals more students of color. This simplification is understandable, especially when ""statistical diversity"" has become more popular as an indicator of a college's quality. Comfortable in her own community, my Hispanic friend wouldn't go the extra mile to apply for this school if she felt it was not diverse enough.

Now we all know Plan 2008, in the end, is just a plan. Materializing diversity needs diverse answers. More minorities on campus is certainly a good start, but we can also offer more varied academic program choices so everyone could benefit from ""diversity.""

The School of Journalism, for example, doesn't allow its students to double major in programs outside of the College of Letters and Science. So what if a prospective journalist wants to expand his horizon by going for a finance major? While L&S offers a wide array of courses, finance is the speciality of the Business School. Even if you try to make do with economics classes, the huge size of L&S limits the personal attention you normally enjoy in a small professional school. If schools and departments could work together to offer students more choices, that would be another significant stride toward diversity.

In terms of student profile, UW has several options besides simply beefing up the presence of minorities. Recent legislation plays a key role in diversifying the campus by allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition so long as they meet certain requirements. This is a blessing for young students whose dreams could be easily crushed by harsh realities. Although each year the number of these students is not more than 1,000, their educational experiences could largely reflect how dedicated the UW is to our diversity enterprise.

Another approach is boosting the geographical diversity of UW's student body. Currently, 60 percent of students at UW-Madison are from Wisconsin, with another 10 percent coming from Minnesota. Students from different states and even different countries bring diverse perspectives to the campus. Increasing the interaction between residents and nonresidents has proven mutually beneficial. But tuition is a big hurdle, especially for out-of-state students. Paying three times the in-state tuition, many of them find private institutions more attractive.

Our Big Ten counterpart, the University of Minnesota, used to have a similar tuition gap. In the 2007-2008 academic year, in-state tuition at Minnesota was about $4,000 per semester, while for nonresidents it was $9,800. The school took a dramatic turn a year later. In 2008, Minnesota announced that for every nonresident entering in fall 2008 or later, the tuition was reduced to $6,250 a semester. With a 40 percent discount, Minnesota is now truly bent on the diversity cause. Even if copying Minnesota looks way out of reality, the UW could at least get some inspiration from the Golden Gophers, such as offering more incentives to talented out-of-state students and decreasing the quota for in-state students.

Diversity means more choices for community members and more ease to make choices for those outside of the community. UW's efforts today are certainly encouraging. But before it gets more diverse, the UW needs to think inclusively first.

Qi Gu is a junior majoring in journalism. Please send responses to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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