If you’re white and you’re against affirmative action because you think it’s “racist,” I have news for you: This is perpetuating a system that privileges white people. And white privilege is a product of racism. Have you ever thought, “This is unfair! Why should minority students have an advantage over me in the college process?” Guess what, you have an advantage over them in almost any other area of life. Harvard sociology professor Devah Pager conducted a 2007 study that observed how race and incarceration affect the economy on a large scale for her book titled “Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration.” She found that a white man who just left prison is equally as likely to get hired as a Black man with no criminal record. Do you think that seems fair?
At the University, I have sat in many a classroom marked by homogeneity with a white majority. According the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion site, University President Mark Schlissel has a plan to combat this issue. This plan involves teach-ins, talks and guest speakers. To be honest, I am skeptical this will promote any true progress.
The reality is, to achieve true inclusion, we must start by increasing the diversity of our student body’s racial and cultural makeup. The University needs affirmative action.
Last April, the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan law that made considering race in the admissions process illegal for public universities. This decision focused on the constitutionality of the issue. The associate justices wrote more than 100 pages of opinion on this difficult decision. This is a sensitive issue, and the justices displayed a wide variety of opinions. Justice Sonia Sotomayor famously wrote that she believes affirmative action got her to Princeton and to where she is today. Her emotional piece explains the experience of many minority students who are given the opportunity to succeed at a prestigious university. Affirmative action remains illegal in Florida and California as well. Though many want to believe we live in a post-racial society in which everyone is seen equally, we do not. So rather than pretending we’ve made such progress, we need to start working toward better inclusion.
People of my generation are extremely committed to promoting inclusion and diversity. We have seen this at Mizzou, Yale and many other universities and institutions over the past several months. Many college students feel strongly that it is time for a change and are willing to fight for it.
I have seen this initiative for change get brushed over at the University. There were a few student demonstrations, many articles written and a public statement from Schlissel, who talks a lot about improving diversity issues without a lot of progress. The desire is there, but not the action. I stand by and watch as the University desperately reaches for some kind of change, but can’t seem to find it. The problem lies within the makeup of the student body. The Office of the Registrar states that less than 5 percent of the entire student body is Black, and less than 5 percent is Hispanic. Meanwhile, according to the 2014 census, the state of Michigan is 19 percent Black and Latino, and the United States is about 30 percent Black and Latino. Without accurate representation of these minority groups, we will never create the change we so desperately need. In order for all University students to have an academic experience that involves multiple perspectives and ideas, there should be greater diversity.
Let me now address some of your concerns. You might be under the impression that affirmative action makes the college process unfair, as it gives people an advantage just because of their race, something they have no control over. Is it fair that some students get a full scholarship based on their athletic ability? What about having an expensive ACT tutor or going to a private school with smaller and more engaging classes? In-state versus out-of-state? Is any of this fair? Some students may have spent high school focusing on saving up for their tuition rather than focusing on their GPA. Nothing about this process is fair. Some students come from families wealthy enough that the admissions office sees only a dollar sign when they read their application. Why stop at affirmative action? Why stop where an advantage in the process will allow all students to grow by improving the diversity of the student body?
None of this is to say that I think that students of color do not have the academic ability or drive to get into prestigious universities on their own. Rather, many are disadvantaged by their life experiences, and deserve a leg up to compensate for earlier obstacles. Students of color often come from families less likely to afford tutors and expensive testing to receive much-needed extra time, among many other disadvantages.
Our country has a history of hundreds of years of enslavement, torture and other horrors white Europeans inflicted upon people of color. We cannot even the playing field by pretending it never happened. We must work toward a system of equality and change. If the University of Michigan wants to achieve a truly diverse student body, we must begin with the admissions process.
Alison Schalop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.