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Talent & education

Why is affirmative action divisive?

Later this year, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will revisit Proposal 2, which, as of now, bans affirmative action as a point of entry into colleges and universities.  What that means is race and gender are no longer points of consideration in the admission process.

We all know that being accepted into a top-tier university requires good grades. It is an absolute fallacy that you don’t. But there are other factors that contribute to collegiate admissions.

But let’s get real here.  While opponents of affirmative action feel that Prop 2 levels the playing field again, it actually doesn’t. Giving consideration is nothing new.  Universities — and employers — for that matter, have been giving consideration for all sorts of reasons, not just gender and race. Athletes and relatives of alumni and wealthy contributors reap the privileges of their position, such as preferred college admission.

So the real question is: Why can’t these same considerations be given to worthy candidates who come from disadvantaged backgrounds? Students should not be penalized if they are not born with, or exposed to, certain advantages. Diversity of thought/ideas are necessary in any environment, particularly the academic environment. Colleges and universities need to be representative of their communities that surround them.

So, why is this issue so divisive? Let’s face it — we all win when we help others win.

1 comment from a Bridge reader.Add mine!

  1. William Hamilton

    I don’t know if Ms. Hollowell wrote the headline to her brief opinion piece, “Why is affirmative action divisive?” but the answer is pretty clear: It touches on America’s founding and still powerfully divisive disorder, race. For most of the first two hundred years of American independence, invidious distinctions based on the notion of “race” or color were not only legally sanctioned, in many cases they were legally mandated, despite the obvious conflict with American’s founding principle, that all men were created equal. To many it seems a continuing betrayal of that principle to now make the 19th Century pseudo-science crackpot concept of “race” a factor in the allocation of public resources.

    I leave out the consideration of gender in admissions; women hardly need a preference and now outnumber men in many fields.

    Ms. Hollowell’s closing statement, “we all win when we help others win” is certainly not true. Admission to the top public universities, and in particular to the elite grad schools, is a highly prized but very supply-limited good. There will always be winners and losers in the distribution of these golden tickets.

    Ms. Hollowell notes that because of Proposal 2, there is not currently consideration for worthy candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds as there is for athletes, alumni, or the wealthy. She equates membership in a racial minority with disadvantage. Clearly not all black applicants are disadvantaged. Should Colin Powell’s son have a leg up on U of M admission as compared to the child of a Vietnamese immigrant or a West Virginia coal miner?

    Rather than a race-based admission program, how about a program that supports truly disadvantaged applicants? Not just for admission but for scholarships and mentoring. And while we’re at it, let’s spend additional resources in urban schools and underprivileged communities to make sure those kids have a fair chance at competing for those admissions. And to make room for those kids, I’d be totally content with eliminating spots for less-well-qualified athletes, legacies, and the children of the wealthy.

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