Gratz, et al. v. Bollinger, et al., No. 97-75321 (E.D. Mich.)
Grutter, et al. v. Bollinger, et al., No. 97-75928 (E.D. Mich.)


For this litigation, I have conducted a unique series of analyses of existing data on diversity in higher education. This work consistently confirms that racial diversity and student involvement in activities related to diversity have a direct and strong effect on learning and the way students conduct themselves in later life, including disrupting prevailing patterns of racial separation. A critical question is why diversity should affect student learning and development of skills necessary for living in a pluralistic democratic society. Before detailing the results of our empirical work, I develop a theoretical rationale below for each of these types of outcomes.

The Critical Importance of Higher Education

Because students in late adolescence and early adulthood are at a critical stage of development, diversity (racial, economic, demographic, and cultural) is crucially important in enabling them to become conscious learners and critical thinkers, and in preparing them to become active participants in a democratic society. Universities are ideal institutions to foster such development.

In essays written at the end of World War II, which profoundly affected our understanding of social development, psychologist Erik Erikson (1946, 1956) introduced the concept of identity and argued that late adolescence and early adulthood are the unique times when a sense of personal and social identity is formed. Identity involves two important elements: a persistent sameness within oneself, and a persistent sharing with others. Erikson theorized that identity develops best when young people are given a psycho-social moratorium -- a time and a place in which they can experiment with different social roles before making permanent commitments to an occupation, to intimate relationships, to social groups and communities, and to a philosophy of life. Ideally, the moratorium will involve confrontation with diversity and complexity, lest young people passively make commitments that follow their past, rather than being obliged to think and make decisions that fit their talents and feel authentic.

Our institutions of higher education are constituted precisely to take advantage of this developmental stage and to provide that ideal moratorium. Residential colleges and universities separate the late adolescent from his/her past. They allow young people to experiment with new ideas, new relationships, and new roles. They make peer influence a normative source of development. They sanction a time of exploration and possibility (at least four years and, for many, the graduate years as well) before young people make permanent adult commitments.

Not all institutions of higher education serve this developmental function equally well. According to Erikson's emphasis on the importance of discontinuity from the past environment, higher education will be especially influential when its social milieu is different from the home and community background, and when it is diverse enough and complex enough to encourage intellectual experimentation and recognition of varied future possibilities. Going to college in one's home environment or replicating the home community's social life and expectations in a homogeneous college that is simply an extension of the home community impedes the personal struggle and consciousness of thought that Erikson argues are critical for identity development.

The classic study by sociologist Theodore Newcomb of Bennington College (1943) supports Erikson's belief that late adolescence is a time to determine one's relationship to the socio-political world and affirms the developmental impact of the college experience. This study demonstrated that political and social attitudes -- what Erikson would call the core of social identity -- are quite malleable in late adolescence and that change occurred especially for students to whom Bennington College presented ideas and attitudes that were discrepant from their home backgrounds. Peer influence was critical in the changes Newcomb documented. Subsequent follow-ups of these students, moreover, showed that the attitudes formed during the college experience were quite stable, even 25 years later (Newcomb, Koenig, Flacks, and Warwick, 1967) and 50 years later (Alwin, Cohen, and Newcomb, 1991).

Writing long before the controversies about diversity and affirmative action became politically important or academically studied, neither Erikson nor Newcomb was making an explicit case for social diversity. Nonetheless, their arguments about the significance of discontinuity and the power of a late adolescence/early adulthood moratorium provide a strong theoretical rationale for the importance of bringing students from varied backgrounds together to create a diverse and complex learning environment. Late adolescent and early adult experiences, when they are discontinuous enough from the home environment and complex enough to offer new ideas and possibilities, can be critical sources of development. Racial diversity, given the significance of the racial separation that persists in this country, increases the probability that higher education environments will provide such experiences. Encountering students from different racial and ethnic groups enables students to get to know one another and to deepen their own thinking about themselves and about others.

Theories of cognitive growth also emphasize discontinuity and discrepancy. Many different cognitive-developmental theories agree that cognitive growth is instigated by incongruity or dissonance, termed disequilibrium by the well-known Swiss psychologist Piaget (1971;1975/1985). Drawing on these theories, developmental psychologist Diane Ruble (1994) offers a model that ties developmental change to transitions, such as going to college. Transitions are significant moments for development because they present new situations about which individuals have little knowledge and in which they will experience uncertainty. The early phase of a transition, what Ruble calls the phase of construction, is especially important. People have to seek information in order to make sense of the new situation. Under these conditions individuals likely will undergo cognitive growth (unless they are able to retreat to a familiar world). Applied to the experience in higher education, Ruble's model gives special importance to the first year of college (or to the first year of graduate school), as this is the critical period of construction. In this period, classroom and social relationships that challenge rather than replicate the ideas and experiences students bring with them from their home environments are especially important in fostering cognitive growth.

In order to capitalize amply on such opportunities for cognitive growth, institutions of higher education must bring diverse students together, provide stimulating courses covering historical, cultural, and social bases of diversity and community, and must create opportunities and expectations for students to interact across racial and other divides. Otherwise, many students will retreat from the opportunities offered by a diverse campus to find settings within their institutions that are familiar and that replicate their home environments.

Learning Outcomes

Students learn more and think in deeper, more complex ways in a diverse educational environment. A curriculum that deals explicitly with social and cultural diversity, and a learning environment in which diverse students interact frequently with each other, naturally will affect the content of what is learned. Less obvious, however, is the notion that students’ mode of thought is affected by features of the learning environment, and that diversity is a feature that produces deeper and more complex thinking. I refer generally to these mode-of-thought benefits of diversity as "learning outcomes."

It cannot be taken for granted that deep and complex thinking occurs as a matter of course among students in college classrooms and in the broader college environment. Research in social psychology in the past twenty years, in particular, has shown that active engagement in learning cannot be assumed. This research confirms that much apparent thinking and thoughtful action are actually automatic or what psychologist Ellen Langer (1978) calls mindlessness. To some extent, mindlessness is the result of previous learning that has become so routine that thinking is unnecessary. Instead, these learned routines are guided by scripts or schemas that are activated and operate automatically. Some argue that mindlessness is necessary because there are simply too many stimuli in the world for us to pay attention to. It is more efficient for us to select only a few stimuli, or better still, to go on automatic pilot -- to be what some people call "cognitive misers."

Psychologist John Bargh (1997) reviews both historical and recent research evidence showing that automaticity in fact plays a pervasive role in all aspects of everyday life. He concludes that not only is automatic thinking evident in perceptual processes such as categorization and stereotyping, and in execution of perceptional and motor skills (such as driving and typing), but it is also pervasive in evaluation, emotional reactions, determination of goals, and social behavior itself. Bargh uses the term "preconscious" to describe automatic thinking. Preconscious processes are mental servants that take over from conscious, effortful thinking. He and others (Nisbett and Wilson, 1977; Greenwald and Banaji, 1995) show, moreover, that even when people believe that they have been thinking about something or that an evaluation or action is guided by a thought-out point of view, they are often wrong. Instead, they are often guided by a script coming from past experience -- from some kind of automatic processing.

In one of the early studies indicating the pervasiveness of automatic thinking, Langer (1978) laid out many positive benefits that come when people can be encouraged to use active, effortful, conscious modes of thought rather than automatic thinking. All of these benefits foster better learning. Langer argued that conscious, effortful thinking helps people develop new ideas and new ways of processing information that may have been available to them but were simply not used very often. In several experimental studies, she showed that such thinking increases alertness and greater mental activity (surely something all college teachers strive for in classrooms).

Many terms are used to describe two basically different modes of thought: automatic v. nonautomatic; preconscious v. conscious; peripheral v. central; heuristic v. systematic; mindless v. minded; effortless v. effortful; implicit v. explicit. Whatever the term, higher education needs to find ways to produce the deeper, less automatic mode of thinking.

The social science literature demonstrates that certain conditions encourage effortful, minded, and conscious modes of thought. Langer contends that people will engage in minded thought when they encounter a novel situation for which, by definition, they have no script; or, when the environment demands more than their current scripts provide, such as an encounter with something that is quite discrepant from their past experience. These conditions are very similar to what sociologist Coser (1975) calls complex social structures: situations where we encounter many rather than few people, when some of those people are unfamiliar to us, when some of them challenge us to think or act in new ways, when people and relationships change and thus produce some unpredictability, and, especially, when people we encounter hold different kinds of expectations of us. Coser shows that people who function in complex social structures develop a clearer and stronger sense of individuality and a deeper understanding of the social world as well.

These features of the environment that promote deep thinking are compatible with cognitive-developmental theories positing that cognitive growth is fostered by incongruity or dissonance (Piaget's disequilibrium). To learn or grow cognitively, we need to recognize cognitive conflicts or contradictions, situations that psychologist Diane Ruble (1994) argues then lead to a state of uncertainty, instability, and possibly anxiety (see also Acredolo & O'Connor, 1991; Doise & Palmonaari, 1984; Berlyne, 1970). "Such a state may occur for a number of reasons," Ruble says. "It may be generated either internally via the recognition of incompatible cognitions or externally during social interaction. The latter is particularly relevant to many types of life transitions, because such transitions are likely to alter the probability of encountering people whose viewpoints differ from one's own" (p171).

A university composed of racially and ethnically diverse students (what I refer to as "structural diversity"), a curriculum that deals explicitly with social and cultural diversity, and interaction with diverse peers produce a learning environment that fosters conscious, effortful, deep thinking. For most of our students, the social diversity of the University of Michigan creates the discrepancy, discontinuity, and disequilibrium that are so important for producing the mode of thought educators must demand from their students. Vast numbers of white students (about 92 percent) and about half (52 percent) of the African American students come to the University of Michigan from segregated backgrounds. As groups, only our Asian American and Latino/a students arrive here already having encountered considerable diversity in their pre-college experience (see Appendix E). Thus, for most of our students, Michigan's social diversity is
  • new and unfamiliar;
  • discrepant from their pre-college social experiences;
  • a source of multiple and different perspectives;
  • and likely to produce contradictory expectations.

These are the very features of an environment that research has determined will foster active, conscious, effortful thinking -- the kind of thinking needed for learning in institutions of higher education.

The work of higher education researcher Patricia King and colleagues (King and Shuford, 1996; King and Kitchener, 1994) supports this conclusion. They contend that college students (and adults for some time after college) are developing from a pre-reflective stage of judgment, when they depend on direct, personal observation or the word of an authority figure, toward more substantiated and qualified claims, and then to an even more advanced stage, when thinking is fully reflective. At the reflective level, students work from the assumption that knowledge is not given but constructed and that they must construct it. In doing this, they need to consider the context from which knowledge claims are made. They must think deeply and effortfully to take into account multiple points of view, evaluate evidentiary claims, and draw conclusions based on conceptual soundness, coherence, degree of fit with the data, and meaningfulness. King further argues that social diversity -- having multiple voices in the classroom -- and the multicultural teaching strategy of presenting multiple perspectives from the points of view of race, class, and gender foster fully reflective thinking. Teaching students how to think about complex issues from different perspectives is a primary goal of higher education.

Although the scholars advancing these arguments about the importance of unfamiliarity, discrepancy/discontinuity, multiplicity/diversity, and contradictoriness of expectations generally have not measured the explicit effect of racial diversity, some empirical research on the diversity of small working groups directly supports our claims. It has been shown that members of heterogeneous working groups offer more creative solutions to problems than those in homogeneous groups (Cox, 1993; McLeod, Lobel, & Cox, 1996). They show greater potential for critical thinking, perhaps because heterogeneity of group members eliminates a problem termed "group think" (Janis, 1982), an organizational situation in which group members mindlessly conform.

The empirical analyses presented later in this Report directly test the theoretical arguments I am advancing for the impact of racial diversity on student learning. All of these analyses confirm that racial and ethnic diversity is especially likely to increase effortful, active, engaged thinking when universities set up the conditions that capitalize on these positive environmental features, namely when they offer courses that deal explicitly with racial and ethnic diversity and when they provide a climate in which students from diverse backgrounds frequently interact with each other.

Democracy Outcomes

Education plays a foundational role in a democracy by equipping students for meaningful participation. Students educated in diverse settings are better able to participate in a pluralistic democracy. Democracy is predicated on an educated citizenry. Students educated in diverse settings are better able to participate in our democratic process. In this Report, I refer generally to these types of benefits of diversity as "democracy outcomes."

In Fear of Diversity (1992), political scientist Arlene Saxonhouse details the debates that took place in ancient Greece about the impact of diversity on capacity for democracy. Plato, Saxonhouse says, envisioned a city-state in which unity and harmony would be based on the shared characteristics of a homogeneous citizenry (though even he warned against striving for too much unity). However, it was Aristotle who was able to overcome the fear and welcome the diverse. "Aristotle embraces diversity as the others had not . . . . The typologies that fill almost every page of Aristotle's Politics show him uniting and separating, finding underlying unity and significant differences" (Saxonhouse, p. 235). Aristotle advanced a political theory in which unity could be achieved through differences, and contended that democracy based on such a unity would be more likely to thrive than one based on homogeneity. What makes democracy work, according to Aristotle, is equality among citizens who are peers (admittedly only free men at the time, not women and not slaves) but who hold diverse perspectives, and whose relationships are governed by freedom and rules of civil discourse. It is discourse over conflict, not unanimity, that helps democracy thrive (Pitkin & Shumer, 1982).

The theory of democracy that has prevailed in the United States is more akin to Plato's than to Aristotle's conception. It is the Republican tradition, represented by Rousseau on through Jefferson, in which democracy and citizenship are believed to require social homogeneity, simplicity, and an overarching common identity, rather than social diversity, complexity, and multiple identities. The model is the town meeting where people from similar backgrounds, familiar with each other, and interdependent through similarity and familiarity, come together to debate the common good.

The increasingly heterogeneous population in the United States challenges this conception of democracy. Little wonder that we are now facing cultural, disciplinary, and political debates over the extent to which our American democracy can survive with so much heterogeneity and so many group-based claims in the polity. Yet, it is clear that ethnic hierarchy or one-way assimilation, both of which call for muting of differences and cultural identities, is much less likely to prevail in the future than in the past (Fredrickson, in press). Our students, as leaders of the future, need to learn how to accept diversity, negotiate conflicts, and form coalitions with individuals and groups if they are to become prepared to be leaders in an increasingly heterogeneous and complex society.

Piaget also emphasizes diversity, plurality, equality, and freedom. In his theory of intellectual and moral development, Piaget argues that children and adolescents can best develop a capacity to understand the ideas and feelings of others -- what he calls "perspective taking" -- and to move to a more advanced stage of moral reasoning when they interact with diverse peers who are also equals. Both diversity and equality in the relationship are necessary for intellectual and moral development. In a homogeneous environment, in which young people are not forced to confront the relativity or limitations of their points of view, they are likely to conform to a single perspective defined by an authority. Without being obliged to discuss and argue with others on an equal basis, they are not likely to do the cognitive and emotional work that is required to understand how other people think and feel. Piaget contends that children do not grow in perspective-taking skills in their relationships with parents, because they are apt to accept rather than debate what parents say. With peers, they debate and actively confront multiple points of view. They also have to deal with the strong emotions that such controversy engenders. It is these cognitive and emotional processes that promote the advanced morality that is so needed to make a pluralistic democracy work.

Several dimensions of development of the capacity for democracy can be discerned from these theories. The conditions deemed important include:
  • the presence of diverse others;
  • equality among peers;
  • and discussion under rules of civil discourse.

These conditions are thought to produce perspective taking, mutuality and reciprocality, acceptance of conflict as a normal part of life, acceptance of difference and capacity to perceive commonality amidst the differences, interest in the wider social world, and citizen participation. Using these dimensions, I have empirically tested effects of diversity in a higher education setting on the capacity for democracy. All of these analyses confirm a positive relationship between racial diversity experiences during college and the capacity for participation in a pluralistic democracy.

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