Leveling the Playing Field

In the previous issue of The Phillipian, a house of cards was built about the racial injustices caused by affirmative action, particularly when applied to university admissions. Last week’s article, “Affirmative Action: An Obstacle to Meritocracy,” made false assumptions about affirmative action from the start and was completely void of source evidence. The author ended her second paragraph with a deceptive question: “What serves a college better, the most racially diverse student body, or the most academically talented, intellectually passionate applicants?” The setting of these two concepts as mutually exclusive was, quite frankly, racist, although I do not believe his was the author’s intent. This kind of understatement resulted in an article that too often oversimplified the moral implications of affirmative action. The moral implication highlighted was that affirmative action directly interferes with a meritocracy because admissions based on race allows some “less qualified” students gain acceptance over others due to their racial background. I’m a white male, but I still believe diversity is a qualification that should be considered along the same lines as athletics, art, theater or music. Affirmative action has not changed the focus of admissions from academics to race or gender, it simply acknowledges the fact that diversity is among the list of preferable qualities in its applicant pool. The author continued to say that affirmative action is “morally equivalent to the discriminatory admissions processes that used to favor white applicants over black.” To me, it seems absurd to compare affirmative action, designed to counteract disadvantages that minorities face both in school and in the workplace, with the discrimination that has occurred throughout American history. The author also argued that affirmative action can be used to compensate for the mistakes of the past such as slavery and Jim Crow laws, but when considering federal court rulings, one can clearly see that this is not true. The Supreme Court holds all affirmative action cases to the following three standards: “Race-sensitive admissions plans must serve some ‘compelling’ goal, universities must not be able to pursue that goal adequately without them, and they must be ‘narrowly tailored’ to achieving that goal”(Ronald Dworkin, The Court and the University). These three standards ensure that race-based admissions must offer some goal other then compensation for racist actions of the past. Later in the article, the author made another ludicrous claim: “The argument that affirmative action can counteract modern society’s discrimination also holds little water.” Affirmative action has helped the income, promotion and labor force participation rates of minorities throughout the nation. Between 1982 and 1995, the percentage of female managers and professionals in the U.S. rose from 40.5 to 48.0 percent; blacks from 5.5 to 7.5 percent, and Hispanics from 5.2 to 7.6 percent. By comparison, these groups form 51.2 percent, 12.6 percent, and 10.2 percent of the population, respectively. (U.S. Department of Labor, Revised Order No. 4, December, 1971.) Affirmative action both aims, and overwhelmingly succeeds, at counteracting modern society’s discrimination. Another argument the author made was that “it is personal history, not ancestral home that matters.” This overlooks the fact that personal history and ancestry are inherently and inseparably tied. The experience of being a black woman in America is unique regardless of economic or scholastic background. She then tried to argue against colleges’ compelling goal of increasing diversity by saying, “Let’s be honest with ourselves. Classroom discussions are enhanced by motivated and capable students, no matter what racial makeup they may have.” Colleges do not just blindly accept minority students, they accept the most motivated and capable minority students in their application pool. Classrooms with a diverse racial makeup are inherently enhanced for two reasons. First, for some, to interact with minority students in school can disprove the thought that intelligence is unequally distributed across race or gender lines. Second, discussions are improved by having the viewpoints that would be otherwise impossible without affirmative action. The author’s final and most upsetting point was that “intelligence and talent are naturally distributed equally across all races—as long as we admit fairly, diversity will come.” This statement defies over 300 years of American history. As civil rights activist Roy Wilkins once said, “Just think, of the 375 years that African-Americans have been on this continent, 245 were in slavery, 100 in legalized discrimination and only 30 involving anything else.” To think that diversity will organically develop because all races and genders are equally qualified completely ignores all race and gender issues that America faces today. The author finished by writing, “If the problem lies in complex socioeconomic factors that trap many African-American or Latino student in underperforming urban middle schools, let’s not try to fake a simple answer that cheats us all.” Affirmative action has not cheated anyone; it has nobly attempted to take the first steps in solving the socioeconomic problems that trap many minority students and leveling the playing field for all. Duncan Crystal is a three-year Upper from Melrose, Massachusetts.