On Checkbox Diversity

27 Journal of Civil Rights & Economic Development 203 (Fall 2013)

14 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2014 Last revised: 21 Aug 2016

See all articles by Philip Lee

Philip Lee

University of the District of Columbia - David A. Clarke School of Law

Date Written: March 22, 2014


In this article, I contest a certain definition of diversity in higher education that was recently articulated by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia at oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas. This definition assumes that diversity is simply reducible to the number of students in a college, university, graduate school, or professional program who choose to self-identify as racial or ethnic minorities on their applications. However, diversity based solely on checked boxes (i.e., “checkbox diversity”) is problematic for a number of reasons.

I offer a critique of checkbox diversity, and to the extent that any higher education admissions offices rely on checkbox diversity in making their decisions, I provide an alternative for creating a more meaningful type of diversity in their entering classes. Specifically, for an admissions process to be narrowly tailored under the educational benefits rationale set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, the evaluation must consider how each individual applicant would add to the diversity of perspectives in the class. Checkbox diversity fails to meet this objective because it assumes that certain checked boxes are proxies for different perspectives -- which also assumes an essentialist view of racial identity. It, therefore, does not go deep enough to determine how an applicant's optional self-identification actually informs his or her perspective.

As an alternative to this superficial measure of diversity, I contend that admissions officers and faculty readers at institutions of higher education should view racial and other identities as contextual and look for markers within the application materials that demonstrate how these identities are important to an applicant who claims them.

Keywords: Diversity, Equal Protection, Constitutional Law, Admissions, Higher Education

Suggested Citation

Lee, Philip, On Checkbox Diversity (March 22, 2014). 27 Journal of Civil Rights & Economic Development 203 (Fall 2013), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2413049

Philip Lee (Contact Author)

University of the District of Columbia - David A. Clarke School of Law ( email )

4340 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
United States

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