ANN ARBOR, Mich.- At the University of Michigan’s bicentennial colloquium Jan. 30, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Susanne Baer from Germany’s highest court had a conversation about what universities will look like in the upcoming years, referencing the issue of classism, which Baer said she believes affects the future of universities the most by hindering diversification.
“The moral of class manifests itself differently and is located within different segments of the population,” Baer said. “Money matters but shouldn’t matter as much when it comes to education.”
The University released a 49-part Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan last October aiming to diversify students’ race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but low-income students are still widely underrepresented, according to a report released last month.
Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, stressed that the university lacks diversity, citing the school’s historically low enrollment of African-American and minority students.
“We are making large improvements towards a kind of equality but we are still far from it,” she said. “When you look at the number of African Americans at the University of Michigan, there’s a real problem there.”
The panelists also spoke about how compromise is a good catalyst to bring aobut change in a community.
“This community is built on the willingness to compromise,” Baer said. “It’s about being fair … being forceful with your arguments, but yet being willing to respect the other as a legitimate voice, from another world maybe but still legitimate.”
Baer, the first openly gay woman to serve on Germany’s high court, spoke about her personal experiences, saying that while at the University, she was afraid of being called on. Coming from another country and not yet being out as a homosexual woman, she said if an individual has to run away from issues, they should always chase new opportunities instead of hiding.
“For me to have those two challenges in my life, one super private that no one talked about and the other, being an international student and everyone knows it, what’s difficult to hear yet again is, if I have the tendency to run away, it’s running to a more comfortable place where maybe you can start again,” Baer said. “Never leave the situation. Never leave the opportunity but create your next opportunity and start again.”
Baer was asked by a student in the audience how public opinion affects her job as a justice. Baer responded by explaining her belief that justices should embrace public opinion in order to have a deeper understanding of the people they are representing.
“If you’re acting with these people and start a discussion with what they expect from you, you come into much richer waters,” she said. “You can start a conversation.”