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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Thomas Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, raised the alarm in gender bias across campuses recently.

"If you study enrollment data the way I do, the imbalance just slaps you in the face … today there are 2.7 million more women than men in higher education," he said.

And last week, the Alligator reported on another kind of bias - that minority enrollment has remained "stagnant" over the past few years at campuses across the country. Last year, the degree breakdown was 69 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, 6 percent black, and 6 percent Asian - indicative of the still unconquered racial "degree attainment gap."

What do these two viewpoints have in common? They both consider the statistics to indicate a societal wrong, which devalues what statistics can tell us about the world. More specifically, they make an absolutely absurd assumption: The national proportions of races and genders should be maintained at every institution.

So if 13 percent of the country is black, this logic says that 13 percent of the UF student body should be black. About 49 percent of the population is male, but 41.1 percent of UF's freshman class this year was male - so this assumption concludes that something must be wrong.

This would make the world conveniently simple: A perfect society will have a perfectly uniform distribution of demographics. But this darn world just seems determined to be complex.

I want to reemphasize that I'm not saying statistics are useless, but we absolutely must stop relying on them as open-and-shut case evidence. The fact that men are not going to college as much as women right now does not prove that there is a societal disorder. As a heterosexual male, I think it's great that there are more women at UF, though I must admit that opinion has less to do with social justice than personal interest.

Are gender and race still issues?

Of course they are. But the answer to dealing with them is not an agenda to evenly distribute race and gender ratios throughout the country - that would be racist and sexist. Towson University in Maryland and Dickinson College in Pennsylvania are actively recruiting men for their campuses - not the best students that apply regardless of gender. I don't need to see a single number to recognize that as unjust.

Maybe I'm naïve.

Perhaps striving for utopia means trading with historically black colleges so UF can achieve that 13 percent and do whatever needs to be done to have a one-to-one ratio of men and women.

Our obsession over statistics and quotas has inflamed what I think will always be a latent competition between the races and genders.

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Simply put, we are beginning to seriously over think it.

"Subtle racism based on underlying assumptions" is no bogeyman - it's real and afflicts all of us both as victims and perpetrators. But it becomes a far worse monster when everyday decisions require heavy consideration of a person's gender and race, which is exactly what our census-obsession has done to us.

Gerald Liles is a history and religion senior. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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