Halfway through my first semester at the LBJ School, I have been impressed with the diversity of interests and strengths of my fellow students. I have felt challenged by my classes and supported by faculty and staff. At the same time, I have been disappointed in the amount of racial and ethnic diversity within the school.
Based on statistics gathered by the admissions office, LBJ’s currently enrolled U.S. minority student population is 16 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian and 3 percent black. International students represent an additional 10 percent. These demographics do not reflect the makeup of the population that many of us are training to serve. In Texas, the population is 38 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian and 12 percent black. LBJ looks more similar to the United States as a whole with its Hispanic and Asian populations, but still under-represents blacks, which make up 13 percent of the U.S. population.
As a school of public affairs, LBJ should affirm that our future policy leaders must understand and represent the diverse experiences of people living in the United States. In class, if we are discussing the disproportionate effects of a policy on different racial or ethnic groups, a diverse set of voices should be available to share their perspectives. And there should be enough of a presence that minority students do not feel as if they are expected to act as a representative of an entire minority group—that can be exhausting and ignores differences of experience among racial groups.
Of course, this begs the question: How diverse is diverse enough?
I’m not suggesting that the admissions committee set a quota of minority students or that it adjust the admissions process to consider race as a factor. Rather, I’d like to see the LBJ School openly assert the benefits of diversity and make it one of the school’s chief values. Achieving a diverse student body should then be incorporated as a goal in future strategic planning.
A small but concrete step that the school could take is for the Dean to publicly affirm the value of diversity to LBJ. The Dean could write a statement with his vision for the school and publish it on LBJ’s Web site. As a public portal through which many prospective students learn about LBJ, this type of public commitment is an easy way to signal to prospective minority students that the school welcomes applicants from diverse backgrounds.
The more difficult part is supporting words with actions, but other professional programs at the university have demonstrated various ways to increase diversity. For example, the law school has chosen to help create institutions at other Texas colleges that help prepare minority candidates. The business school holds an annual diversity forum which gives prospective minority students access to MBA information sessions, tours, class visits, faculty panels, workshops, student and alumni panels, informal socials, and other networking opportunities.
LBJ should create its own strategy to achieve the goal of increasing diversity in the student body. Student organizations such as the Public Affairs Alliance for Communities of Color have worked with the Office of Student and Alumni Programs in the past to reach out to minority candidates by calling and emailing them, hosting prospective students in their homes, bringing them to classes, and throwing special events and happy hours. The student group has also hosted GRE preparation workshops targeted toward minority, first-generation college and low-income students.
These student-led efforts are a step in the right direction. But actions to support diversity at LBJ should be led by the school, which has more resources and organizational capacity than a student group. The school is currently committing resources to strengthen its connections to Washington, DC and to expand its global network. I applaud these efforts. However, it is fair to expect that the school spend as much energy creating connections to programs overseas as on tapping the diverse pool of potential policy leaders we have in the United States. Bolstering outreach and recruitment of minority applicants should be part of the strategic vision of the LBJ School.