We regret to inform you that we will be unable to offer you a seat in the Class of 2001.
Reading those words four years ago today sent me into a tailspin. For months, it seemed, I waited to receive that letter, get in to Georgetown University and begin the rest of my life. Everyone I talked to said I was a sure bet.
“Of course you”ll get in.”
“It”s a slam dunk.”
“When are you moving to Washington?”
They even convinced me. I was so sure that I had only applied to two other schools, neither of which would matter, I believed.
When I got rejected, friends and family immediately tried to comfort me, and it was during this time that I had my first brush with affirmative action. More than one person in my suburban, homogeneous community told me that I was a victim of race-based admissions that I lost “my place” at the school because I was white.
And for a while, their arguments worked. I blamed unknown minorities and mindless administrators for my rejection, which is a nice way to get over a problem. Just get mad. I threw away all of my Georgetown material (except the letter, which I still have), figured the school wasn”t worthy of me and set my sights on Ann Arbor. I convinced myself that the school would regret not allowing my in, that my abilities would be missed on that campus.
The trouble with this rationalization was that it just wasn”t true. It”s possible that I a student with lower test scores or fewer extracurricular activities went to Georgetown while I came to Michigan. But the trouble is that SATs and after-school sports are not an absolute measure of what I am as a person. Neither is class rank, an essay I wrote or where my parents went to college. They”re handy measuring sticks for certain aspects of my or anyone”s abilities and assets.
There”s a reason that selective universities force applicants to submit a wide-array or information for admissions counselors to review. Taken as a whole, these universities hope that they can get a complete idea of who you are, what you”ve done and most importantly, what you would bring to the school if admitted.
A person”s experiences playing on the football team, singing in the choir, working as class president are included on the application, and as most high school juniors know, it helps to have a lot of them. It shows admissions counselors that you have a vast amount of experience, which you can then bring to campus. And no one questions their use in the admissions process. Similarly, no one questions the use of essays, legacy or athletic ability in the process.
But at the same time, everyone seems to want to talk about the use of race. People who hate its use say there shouldn”t be lower standards for minorities. But the point they miss is that it”s not about lower standards. The people who argue against race in admissions believe test scores and GPAs tell the story of a student, and no other factors are necessary.
Race is one factor that allows a university to get a better understanding of who a student is and what a student has to offer, much like intelligence, athletic ability and experience outside the classroom. All of these factors, when taken together, give universities a fighting chance at creating an environment that fosters learning and gives students the best possible college experience.
In the somewhat Utopian society that I and many others hope for, universities would search for students who can enrich the overall university experience. College would not be a means to an end, rather an experience in and of itself. College would be about learning and debating and living not getting a degree, a high-paying job and out of town.
I didn”t get in to Georgetown, and now I”m OK with that. Maybe it was because I”m white. Maybe it was because I didn”t act in a school play. Maybe it was because I didn”t get a tenth of a point higher GPA.
I wasn”t right for the atmosphere Georgetown wanted to create, and the reason is immaterial. The point is that the system is fine. Creating a diverse experience though the use of a wide array of admissions criteria and factors may not be a compelling state interest in the eyes of a Detroit judge, but it sure makes sense to me.
Mike Spahn”s column runs every other Monday. Give him feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.