I don’t like Affirmative Action. Yes, you read that correctly. I am a law abiding, U.S. citizen who is also African American, female, educated, full-time employed, tax-paying and all the way woke.
Now, take a deep breath so that you catch my full meaning. Here it comes…
Affirmative Action isn’t something that was ever intended to be “liked”. It was created out of a national necessity. For those of you who may not be familiar with the legal origins of the programs we now know as Affirmative Action, I encourage you to get a Wikipedia assist. I’m going to say this once before following in the example of the right Congresswoman Maxine Waters and #reclaimingmytime because too many of us are wasting our time re-arguing and justifying the need for these programs.
It’s easy to fall into the trap. I started to go there when the I first saw the article from the Times last week that said the Administration is about to direct the Department of Justice to go after colleges and universities that have affirmative action programs that “discriminate” against the majority culture.
Let’s do a little experiment here. In the world before Executive Order 10925, if there were 10 open seats in the upcoming Hartherford University freshman class and there were 1,000 applications for those ten slots and the academic records of all 1,000 applicants were identical, how do you think the admissions committee would narrow down the pool of applicants. Of course there are letters of recommendation, community service, extracurricular activities, the works. Maybe you manage to get the pool down to 50. What’s next?
An interview you say? Excellent idea! Let’s involve some alumni on the committee too! Great! Who better to help decide who would make excellent Hartherford material than alumni. Remember, all of these candidates look great on paper. You meet all 50 candidates. Twenty are legacies and happen to be white males. The remaining 30 candidates are a mix of women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and a few older veterans of the armed forces and one lone Alaskan Native. None of these 30 has a family connection to Hartherford prior to their application for admission. What do you think is the probability of any of them gaining admission to Hartherford for one of those 10 slots?
How can the committee be expected to not fall victim to the natural bias that draws us to what we view as familiar? Think about it, the room of decision makers 9 times out of 10 was likely to be full of Hartherford alums who would most likely be white males themselves.
This “bias” doesn’t necessarily make these men evil or sinister. It is human nature to group up with that which we find familiar.
So what’s the harm in 10 white males getting those 10 slots?
We also know that having people who have different experiences and perspectives working together makes for better problem solving in the real world. So if you really think about it, those 10 guys are worse off for being in a class of people just like them because they will not have the opportunity to become the well versed leaders the world needs to continue solving problems and pushing the innovation envelop.
What’s the harm to those 30 candidates who never had a chance in hell of getting in?
They walk through life with the question always hovering over their heads…
Why wasn’t I good enough to get into Hartherford?
What about the other 10 white, male legacies? They’ll probably just enroll at Bale University and root against Hartherford during football season.
Now did Affirmative Action programs solve these problems? Yes and No.
Affirmative Action helped to get more non-white and non-male decision makers in those rooms to help make admissions decisions. But in doing so it has made enemies of many Americans who FEEL like those slots belonged to them and their children.
That’s why this resistance to Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity programs is really not about the Trump Administration. It’s about the people who FEEL harmed and wronged by a policy they view as having taken something precious away from them without any returns in their favor. Did Affirmative Action keep them or their children from accessing education? Heck no. Might they have attended college somewhere other than their first choice school? Yeah, it’s possible.
We supporters of Affirmative Action programs may find it more useful to speak on the very real and practical benefits of these programs and continue to present the data to support those statements moving forward. We may also need to face the possibility that Affirmative Action in Higher Education as we have known it may have to change to help us continue the mission of providing education access to all. (More on that in my next post “Reaffirming Action in Higher Education”.)
We must all stay engaged in these proceedings. For those entrusted with the leadership of our colleges and universities, the time is coming for you to stand up and defend what we know to be right. We KNOW that our student and faculty and staff are better for being diverse. We KNOW that we take care to create programs that not only obey the law of the land but also work to keep our campus communities the sanctuaries for critical thinking and social justice this country needs.
It’s time to stand firm because the people will be watching. A university that doesn’t have an Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity plan is not a place I want to work. It’s not a place I will even consider sending my future children to. It’s not a place I will recommend to colleagues.
No, I don’t LIKE Affirmative Action, but I know we still need it. I also know that we still have brothers and sisters who remain unconvinced of the importance of these programs. They need us to not give up on them. It’s like Pop said on Marvel’s Luke Cage:
Always Forward, Forward Always.
That’s the America that I want to live in. One that has room in its heart for all of her citizens to have access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
~ Marta C. Youngblood