As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the population of the United States is more diverse than ever. In the 2010 Census, Texas was 37.6 percent Hispanic/Latino, 11.8 percent African-American, and 3.8 percent Asian, which closely resembles the demographic makeup of the United States as a whole. However, the diversity of Texas and the U.S. is not reflected in the racial and ethnic composition of the LBJ School, especially among Latinos and African-Americans. In fall 2011, the student body was only 15.6 percent Hispanic/Latino and 3.2 percent African-American.
While an exactly proportionate reflection of the U.S. population is not inherently valuable, the current disproportionality is problematic for multiple reasons.
First, as a graduate school focused on training students for public service, it is important for LBJ graduates to reflect the public that we are training to serve. As professionals who are being trained for leadership in a democratic society that draws authority directly from its people, it is important that servant leaders reflect the ‘people.’ This is currently not the case.
Second, as public servants, we will enter careers inevitably influenced by politics, and developing the cultural competencies and skills necessary to navigate complex political and social situations is critical for success. Working for a diverse public that holds an array of community values requires thoughtful reflection and preparation, which we feel we are currently not receiving and would be enhanced by a more diverse student population.
Although the LBJ School has great potential to prepare true public servants, as a top program at a public university in a large and diverse state, it could do more to fully realize its purpose. We applaud the school for increasing its global vision, and we’d like to extend this spirit of inclusivity further into the courses, culture, and student body. Although many professors in their work are sympathetic to and motivated by problems affecting disadvantaged populations, most are largely not equipped to facilitate difficult conversation in the classroom and create learning cultures where a critical perspective is applied. LBJ students are active and engaged, but we also perceive a lack of awareness or motivation from many students to learn how racial, ethnic, and cultural differences may affect policy formation and implementation.
Overall, while LBJ prepares students well technically and theoretically, we feel students lack avenues to reflect on their roles in society as citizens and leaders, and how careers in public service relate to societal progress. We believe it is within the capacity of the LBJ School to prioritize increasing the diversity of the student body and changing the culture of the school, but it will require leadership and institutional commitment of human and financial resources. This is not an impossible task: many private and public organizations use resources to focus on this goal and have been successful. We believe the amount of thought and effort that is expended on recruitment and selection of faculty and administration should apply to students as well.
Increasing diversity at LBJ supports crucial aspects of students’ development and fits with both the tradition of the school and its increased global focus, as well as the values of its namesake. The mission of the LBJ School is not simply to produce skilled technocrats, but to produce thoughtful citizens and leaders.