Last Monday, The New York Times uncovered the Trump administration’s intentions to funnel Justice Department resources into examining and potentially filing lawsuits against colleges and universities who take racial background into consideration when making admissions decisions. Millions were left wondering what effect the investigation and prosecution would have on students who come from underprivileged backgrounds.
Such considerations, or affirmative action policies, were originally meant to level the playing field for disadvantaged applicants. Supporters of affirmative action state such policies are meant to take into account the access an individual has to resources that make them a stronger college applicant. They would argue that groups such as African Americans and women who have historically been excluded from U.S. society are given a fair opportunity to succeed while opponents believe it fosters reverse racism.
Though the U.S. Supreme Court deemed it constitutional for race to be a factor in admissions decisions, eight states have banned this consideration, Michigan included.
According to Kim Broekhuizen, University of Michigan spokeswoman, the University will continue to watch for developments in the matter.
“As always, the University follows all applicable state and federal laws,” Broekhuizen wrote in an email.
Despite the legal restriction of affirmative action policies at the University under Proposal 2, a measure which bans Michigan colleges from using race as a factor in their admissions decisions, minority students like recent University alum Will Royster still live in a reality where they face unfounded assumptions regarding their place on campus.
In an interview, Royster recalled how his identity as a Black male often caused people to question his intelligence and his reason for being at the University. Royster studied mathematics and African American studies during his time on campus and tutored other students in mathematics.
“People will naturally think I’m an athlete …(they) think I’m an athlete because I’m black and I go to the University of Michigan,” Royster said. “Or it’s constant probes about (my) intelligence … even when I was in the Engineering school, there would be times when people didn’t want to be in my group for a project not knowing that I had one of the highest grades in the class. Plenty of times I’m in my math class and I get A’s … and people didn’t want to be in my group. When I (tutor) someone that is of a more privileged identity … and I show him how to get the answer, and I was able to successfully do this, it’s a startling thing (for him).”
Other students and faculty members have also been affected by the controversial topic of affirmative action; this past winter semester, 950 maize and blue chairs were placed in the Diag to signify the students from minority backgrounds who wouldn’t attend the University due to Proposal 2.
Postdoctoral fellow Austin McCoy studies racial justice. In a message, he said the proposed investigation contradicts the reality of race in admissions.
“The DOJ’s proposal to investigate colleges’ and universities’ affirmative action policies are based in a faulty assumption that race conscious forms of redress have a disparate impact on white Americans as a group,” he wrote. “This faulty assumption belies the fact, at least in the context of UM before the passage of Proposal 2, that white students tend to enjoy a higher rate of acceptance and admission despite race-based affirmative action policies.”
Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel, public relations chair of College Democrats and a columnist for the Daily, said the plans to look into intentional race-based discrimination will only hurt diversity and underprivileged students.
“Trump’s assertion that white people are disadvantaged by affirmative action policies is absurd and damaging to students of color, who already feel alienated by primarily white institutions,” Schandevel said.
Conversely, Amanda Delekta, who is the vice president of internal affairs for the University chapter of College Republicans, believes it is not the responsibility of colleges to make considerations regarding a student’s background during the admissions process. In an email, she explained she feels that applicants should be selected based on merit alone and that admission policies that take into account race are unjust.
“Affirmative action policies at colleges and universities are inherently unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court has ruled in Gratz v. Bollinger involving the University of Michigan’s admission policy. Admissions should be based solely on the quality of the applicants contributions,” Delekta wrote. “Leveling the playing field among applicants needs to be addressed prior the college admission process by equalizing the quality of education received by all students in the United States.”
Still, the University bolsters its commitment to maintaining a diverse and welcoming campus by way of its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan, which launched in October 2016. Though the plan has faced criticism for failing to put an end to racist acts on campus, it aims to promote diversity in the student body as well as an atmosphere of inclusion.
Royster said he applauds the University for challenging oppressive opinions and he believes the school is often on the frontlines of important social justice issues; he said he hopes it continues to make measurable changes. Royster also emphasized the importance of learning about affirmative action and being a part of the conversation surrounding it.
He said he feels viewing the issue through the lens of ‘equity’ is a more holistic perspective, as it recognizes that distributing the same amount of resources to people without taking into account their background and current status will not narrow the gap between privileged and disadvantaged people.
“(Affirmative action) wasn’t designed to help minorities when it was first introduced … it was formed to help downtrodden people in general, and certain people had access to that privilege first,” Royster said. “Then when it was the turn of the minorities (to benefit from affirmative action) that’s when it became a problem …(they) were left behind.”