Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A. Critical Mass Matters


The term critical mass, borrowed from the physics concept of the minimum amount of fissionable uranium needed to achieve a nuclear fission reaction, is the term used by the University of Texas as its goal to "increas[e] minority student enrollment on campus." 


Critical mass increases the likelihood that a certain underrepresented group's voice will be heard.  For example, Corporate Board Member magazine has noted that "magic" seems to happen when three or more women serve on a board together.  The Advocate, a State Bar of Texas publication, made a similar observation:


Once a critical mass of women joins a group, their identities as women become less salient and they are seen more for their individual competencies. By contrast, a sole female member of a team may be overlooked, just as a sole female member of an organization's executive levels may face the problems associated with tokenism. The best way to ensure that women are treated and appreciated as individuals is to strive for representative numbers of women at every level of [the legal] profession. 


Such critical mass increases the likelihood that female voices will be heard.  The silver lining, at least with respect to women, is that Americans are willing to bring women into positions of power. The White House Project found that almost 90% of the public is comfortable and accepting of women assuming leadership positions.  The problem, however, is the misperception that women are already on equal ground with their male peers. As made plain above, this is simply not true. There remains a significant gap between men and women. It is time to mobilize and propel diverse women into leading roles in order to build a stronger, better, and more diverse work place.


The notion of critical mass can also be applied to other groups in different situations. Critical mass of minority racial groups can indeed be a vital factor in student success. For example, findings show that Latinos are more likely to excel in community colleges that have a larger proportion of both Latino students and faculty. 


Still, the numbers of minorities in positions of influence is low. In law, the numbers are abysmal.  When law schools lack a critical mass of African-Americans and Latinos, we all lose. We lose the opportunities to learn from one another, to foster a diverse society, and to move forward. As my friend, Michael Olivas, an education expert at the University of Houston, has said, "[f]or the vast majority of law schools, the most effective way to achieve diversity is to take into account the diversity that applicants from racial and ethnic minority groups bring with them."  Scheutte stands directly opposed to this necessity.  We need to progress to a point where enough minorities are present in a classroom setting so that participating in class discussion does not feel like they are spokesmen for their respective races, but rather individuals expressing their opinions.  The same holds true in the workplace.


There are too many people from underrepresented groups who experience being the sole Latino, the sole African-American, the sole Asian-American, or the sole openly gay person in their workplace, their school, or in their activities outside of work. They know first-hand the relative conspicuousness that they face and the painful awareness in being just one. It doesn't take imagination to know that voices become louder if there are more of them - critical mass matters.


Although Grutter v. Bollinger relied on a University's judgment that educational benefits result from a diverse student body  the idea that societal benefits result from diverse workplaces, universities, boardrooms or most other venues should not be a difficult concept to embrace.

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