Diversity essential to graduate schools

(U-WIRE) ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The often overlooked matter of affirmative action in the nation’s graduate programs received an infusion of attention from academia this week. The members of the Association for American Medical Colleges published a report in the September/October edition of Health Affairs identifying affirmative action as “critical to achieving a diverse health care work force.” Indeed, affirmative action is essential not only for admission to medical schools, but throughout professional schools.

Although much of the debate concerning affirmative action has centered around its role in undergraduate admissions, graduate-level programs are dependent on diverse environments to prepare students for their careers. The challenges of interacting with a wide variety of individuals in both professional circles and clients require that students develop an understanding for others.

The often homogenous professional workplace can fail to adequately serve minority communities. Professionals are urgently needed in minority neighborhoods. Minority professionals are necessary since they will increase the options for vital services such as health care and legal assistance within their communities.

A February, 2000 study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that approximately 30 percent of Hispanics and about 20 percent of African Americans did not have a consistent source for their health care needs. These disturbing statistics can only disappear through aggressive affirmative action policies that bring equal opportunity to all.

Particular to the public health community, increasing minority enrollment will increase the level of health care services provided to underprivileged areas. People may feel more comfortable going to a doctor of the same ethnic background as them. If there are more trained professionals opening offices in minority neighborhoods, more people will get the medical care they deserve.

Creating an ethnically diverse learning environment benefits everyone. Students can learn from each other’s backgrounds and experiences. The professionals available to the public will more accurately reflect the demographics of the population the United States. We do not live in an ethnically homogenous society.