Sunday, June 29, 2003

A generation that's ready for change

Issue for Cincinnati: Why does diversity matter?

By Ben Fischer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A year ago, Billy Graham's appearance in Cincinnati brought many faces to the city's riverfront.
Tony Jones
| ZOOM |
Twenty-five years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote that diversity in higher education is a "sufficiently compelling" governmental issue. Last Monday, the high court reaffirmed that statement in its decision upholding limited forms of affirmative action.

During the case, elite universities, Fortune 500 companies and military leaders all attested to the positive effects of a diverse society.

Cincinnati should take heed. Concerned about revitalizing the city, development experts talk about attracting two groups back into the city: Generation X, and more specifically, the "creative class," vibrant, sophisticated urban dwellers. When it comes to attracting these people, diversity is more than a vague ideal. It is at the core of its success.

The Enquirer asked young area residents to discuss what diversity means to their lives. They agree: The creative class, extremely tolerant and very diverse itself, cannot survive in a city that doesn't understand the value of interacting with people of different backgrounds.

Any image of a modern, renewed Cincinnati includes people of all colors who are exposed to a broad range of ethnic, religious and ideological backgrounds.

Interestingly, Generation X is not particularly liberal as a whole, unlike their Baby Boomer parents of the 1960s and '70s. For two decades, annual surveys of college students have found nearly as many conservatives as liberals.

And there certainly isn't agreement on affirmative action. Just like the High Court, the public is split on how exactly to achieve diversity. But the ultimate end result - a multicultural society - isn't up for debate for Americans born after the Civil Rights Era.

Diversity isn't a political issue to them. It's just a fact of life.

After all, when today's 25-year-olds turn 80, the United States will only be about 48 percent white, according to Census bureau projections, a stark change from today's estimate of 75 percent.

Jamal Muashsher, a 27-year-old Arab-American, says his generation is ready for the change.

"We view diversity as commonplace," he says. He believes young people do better with variety in all walks of life than earlier generations.

"We're more open to ideas and suggestion, I think, than our parents."

And as free trade expands the global economy, more and more businesses will become like Muashsher's employer, Procter & Gamble, a company that manages employees in 75 different countries.

"We do a lot of work on Hispanic and African-American cultures," Muashsher says. "There's an understanding that the marketplace is not just one single sort of person."

Segregation and racism still exist. Young people have not suddenly solved all that was wrong in race relations. But they know that they, and their communities, will not thrive if they insist on surrounding themselves with people who look and think just like they do.


Ben Fischer is a student at Kent State University and an intern on the Enquirer editorial page.

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