The Price of Discrimination

In the April 18th issue of _The Phillipian_, I received multiple responses to my article, “On Discussions and Diversity.” Though I would love to address all of them, I have decided to respond to “The Perpetual Specter,” written by Junius Williams ‘14, because it presented a reasoned argument for intentional racial diversity. Generally speaking, the goal of policy is to produce results. Policy must therefore be evaluated on empirical evidence of its effects. Despite the good intentions of intentional racial diversity’s proponents, the limited benefits of the policy do not justify its costs.

Proponents of race-preferential policies should not overstate the benefits of racial diversity. Williams cites personal experience to defend the claim that “people of certain races bring ideas and ways of thinking to the table that others could not.” However, he fails to defend the claim both in theory and in practice. I will certainly agree that experiences of race can vary between racial groups, just as they can vary within racial groups. Ideas and thoughts, however, are human–unlike experiences, they are not limited to particular racial groups. Despite our different backgrounds, Williams and I could very well agree in our ideas about the treatment of African-American males in the context of law enforcement and public safety. When we imagine ourselves to be defined by our experience of race to such an extent that those of different races could not possibly provide the same ideas or think in similar ways, we strengthen the constructed divide between racial groups.

The distinction between experiences and ideas may seem technical, but it has implications for the actual effects of intentional racial diversity. Though Williams insists that “it would be foolish to deny the benefits of bringing such a wealth of experiences to Andover’s intellectual table,” he fails to provide evidence of such intellectual benefits. “So Much for Diverse Opinion,” by James Jung ‘14, published in the April 18th issue of _The Phillipian_, highlights the lack of ideological diversity on campus. Andover is a classic example of racial diversity failing to produce ideological diversity–the kind of diversity that, according to Williams, “Andover desperately needs.”

Empirical evidence more clearly defines the benefits of racial diversity. A statistical meta-analysis conducted at the University of Arkansas showed that the only objectively measurable benefit of racial diversity was an increase in students’ self-assessed level of understanding of racial and cultural issues. An improved understanding of these issues is no trifling benefit, but the associated consequences of intentional racial diversity run counter to the policy’s aims.

There should be no denial or confusion on this point: the effect of intentional racial diversity is to admit more students of under-represented minorities and fewer students of over-represented minorities than would otherwise have been admitted. The inevitable consequence is that students of under-represented minorities–including those who would have been admitted without such a policy–may be perceived to have been admitted because of their race. This perception stigmatizes students in the eyes of teachers, classmates, and future employers, which can lead to an internalization of these notions of inferiority and doubt. Panelists at the April 2 Race-Gender discussion expressed concerns about the perception that some students would be accepted to college more easily because of their race. The root of this problem lies beyond social injustice or microaggressions–this problem is a direct consequence of institutional racial preferences.

Intentional racial diversity, whatever its intended goals may be, systematically disadvantages under-represented minorities. When students are admitted despite lower academic qualifications for the purpose of increasing racial diversity, they succeed to a lesser degree in academically competitive environments. According to data released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 28 percent of black or African-American students enrolled in 2003 failed to graduate, compared to 6 percent of white students and 4 percent of Asian students. These 28 percent of black or African-American students may very well have been successful at a more academically suitable institution. A Duke University study examined the University of California system’s removal of race-preferential policies on all of its campuses. Though fewer students of under-represented minorities were admitted overall, these students were better matched to the academic rigor of their campuses, and the total number of graduating under-represented minority students increased after the banning of racial preferences in admissions. To reiterate: Removing racial preferences benefits under-represented minority students.

Finally, racial preferences are racially discriminatory. Intentional racial diversity assigns lesser value to certain candidates on the basis of their race. Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade found that–other background factors being held equal–“to receive equal consideration by elite colleges, Asian Americans must outperform Whites by 140 points, Hispanics by 280 points, Blacks by 450 points in SAT.” Espenshade is referring to SAT scores out of 1600 points. The first page of our school’s Blue Book outlines the institution’s “Nondiscrimination Policy.” It is a value of this community and of our society at large that one’s race should not be held against one in the pursuit of success–no amount of muddy rhetoric or talk of holistic processes can disguise the fact that race is being used as a factor to the disadvantage of Asians.

At best, intentional racial diversity extracts educational benefits from under-represented minority students while stigmatizing them and jeopardizing their academic success. It discriminates against over-performing minority students. This policy needs to end.

David Shin is a three-year Senior from Vancouver, Canada.