Diversity Numbers to Celebrate at University of Washington

Diversity Numbers to Celebrate at University of Washington

This year’s freshman class is the most diverse in history. That’s to all our benefit.

Two years ago, you may recall, there was a big brouhaha up in Bellingham over issues of race on campus.

The trouble started after then–Western Washington University president Bruce Shepard asked in a blog post how the campus could ensure it was “not as white as we are today.” The question was a reference to the simple fact that Washington was becoming more diverse—or, put another way, less white—and a public university should reflect that changing demographic. The question wasn’t a one-off. During a commencement speech, Shepard stated that if the campus did not grow more diverse, it would be a failure of the administration. In a country still not really comfortable talking about race, Shepard’s comments felt like a provocation to many, and the president (who is white) was savaged by right-wing commentators—not to mention discussion-board commenters—who constantly stand at ready alert against the supposed attacks liberalism seeks to launch against white America.

“Clearly, Shepard is an anti-White toady, creeping to anti-White elites,” opined one website, which still comes up on the first page of Google—between a Crosscut story and a KOMO story—when you search “Western Washington University president diversity.” More sympathetic commentators faulted Shepard for using straightforward language in a delicate situation that they said called for hints and euphemisms.

But Shepard—who retired last spring—stood his ground, and when the dust settled and one was allowed to look at the issue soberly, it became hard to do anything but wholeheartedly agree with his statements: State universities are created to serve all the people, and as such should reflect the people. That comment is not so much controversial as self-evident.

Which gets us to some good news about the incoming class of freshmen at the University of Washington, which is starting fall quarter this week: It is the most diverse freshman class ever admitted by the Huskies, including a 12 percent jump in the enrollment of Latino students.

According to The Seattle Times, this achievement doesn’t come from rejecting a higher number of white students; rather, acceptance of in-state white students has remained fairly steady: 66 percent of those who applied in 1998 made the cut, 61.1 percent this year. What’s changed is that Washington’s population growth has been fueled by a diverse influx of new residents, and the growing class size at UW has reflected that. Just 10 years ago—again, per the Times—70 percent of public high-school students in Washington were white; today, 56 percent are. In Seattle, 46.5 percent of high-school students are white. Likewise, this year, the UW freshman class stands at 39 percent white. You mathematicians out there might note that 39 percent seems a little low for the white class given statewide statistics, but with figures that fluctuate year to year, it’s the trend that is more important to note than individual data points—and the trend is no doubt a positive one.

Amazingly, these enrollment figures have been achieved at UW without the benefit of affirmative action—which Washington voters wrongly outlawed in 1998 via a ballot measure. To repeat what’s been said many times before, a college education has proven to be one of the best predictors of whether or not someone is unemployed or lives in poverty. Given the continued economic disadvantages facing America’s black and Latino communities, public universities represent a tangible and ready tool to address economic inequality. We have said before that affirmative action should be allowed in Washington state. In lieu of that unlikely action, UW’s approach is an acceptable substitute: Admission officers have increased recruitment efforts in minority communities, and take into account applicants’ personal stories when deciding whether they are right for UW. That might seem like a work-around, but the takeaway is that the university sees a student body with a diverse array of life experiences as a positive. They are right.

This year’s freshman class will benefit from seminars and dormitories packed with classmates whose backgrounds and worldviews differ from their own—perhaps greatly. Exposure to a diversity of ideas is the stuff of liberal education, and for these students, that education will not come simply from a textbook or a lecture. It will come from talking to those around them. As such, we can be almost sure that even for students who haven’t started classes yet, school has already begun.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

The Monroe Correctional Complex on April 9, 2020. (Sound Publishing file photo)
Formerly incarcerated people regain right to vote in Washington

Rights restored immediately upon release.

Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance
Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

Spring Chinook Salmon. Photo courtesy Michael Humling, US Fish & Wildlife Service
Salmon update: King County wants cleaner water, more habitat

Salmon and orcas are in the spotlight once again as King County… Continue reading

Guns seized during April 7 arrests (photo credit: Dept. of Justice)
More than 20 arrested across the Puget Sound in drug distribution conspiracy

DOJ says law enforcement agencies seized over 70 guns and hundreds of thousands in cash.

Sheriff’s office wants help identifying Green River killer victim

Staff reports In 2003, Gary Ridgway, Washington’s notorious Green River killer, pleaded… Continue reading

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. File photo
King County needs more lawyers to attack backlog of cases

6,107 open cases is double the normal amount for King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Public Health – Seattle & King County staff administering COVID-19 vaccine to a local emergency responder. COURTESY PHOTO, Public Health-Seattle & King County
Starting April 15, everyone 16 and older is eligible for a vaccine

Gov. Inslee said an expected increase in vaccine supply enables the state to open eligibility.

A CVS pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Phase Finder for vaccine eligibility to be eliminated March 31

Eligibility verification via Phase Finder no longer required for appointments, vaccinations beginning this week.

Courtesy photo
Issaquah School District settles negligence lawsuit for $4.25 million

The lawsuit alleged the district covered for a now-convicted child molester while he was a teacher.

Sound Publishing file photo
More people can get the COVID vaccine on March 31, but supply is still limited

The number of people eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is set… Continue reading

File Photo
High court ruling spurs effort to retool state’s drug laws

Meanwhile, the Blake decision has gotten people out jail, charges dismissed and possibly clemency for some.

Kindergarten and first grade students line up outside of Panther Lake Elementary in Federal Way on March 15. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror
Inslee: K-12 schools can reduce COVID social distancing

The governor reduced social distancing requirements for K-12 classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet.