With the end of Plan 2008, which aimed to improve the diversity of our student body, we are once again facing some serious questions that demand thoughtful answers. And with a new initiative on the horizon, those answers gain an extra degree of importance, since they might very well have an effect on the futures of many prospective University of Wisconsin students.
There seems to be a consensus on the notion that Plan 2008 did not properly meet its goals. Minority student enrollment has risen by 64 percent, with only 12 percent of the current student population composed of minorities. This increase is hardly a departure from the natural increase of the enrollment of minority students. Yet are we really that superficial? One wonders what benefits this campus gains from diversity, if the only gauge of the success of initiatives such as Plan 2008 is the percentage of enrolled minority students.
Let’s not forget that we’re in Wisconsin — a state that is 90 percent white. And if anything, the composition of our current student population closely resembles that of the state population. So instead of trying to create an artificial sense of diversity, we must strive to achieve the equality of opportunity for all students regardless of race. When we look at it objectively, it is almost undeniable that there are disparities in educational opportunities between white and minority students. However, what is debatable is whether universities should take it upon themselves to correct these disparities, and what are the best methods of doing so.
Initiatives like Plan 2008 mainly use the racial composition of the student body as criteria when gauging diversity, which leads to many unintended injustices. First of all, it ignores underprivileged students who are white, since they are lumped into the majority. It also unfairly favors privileged minority students. It also could lead to the deterioration of the quality of the students at a university, since admission officers are pressured to admit minority students who would not qualify otherwise.
Also, even though race is one of the biggest common denominators when looking at the underprivileged segments of American society, it isn’t the only one. Financial status and gender are also factors that affect the opportunities one is provided with in this society. So using race as the sole gauge of privilege is not only illogical, but it is unfair to those who face a lack of opportunity due to other factors.
Furthermore, some go as far as to demand racial quotas for admission, which is not only blatant discrimination but also completely unpractical. The admission process as it stands today favors minority students because of affirmative action, and the implementation of quotas would create a myriad of new problems for admission officers. What if more deserving minority students apply than those allotted in the quotas? Should they be turned away? And what if there are not enough minority applicants to fill the quotas? Are we to borrow students from black colleges to make up for the difference? The suggestion that our university must have a certain percentage of students from any race is absurd.
What is needed in order to achieve true equality and diversity is the assurance of equal opportunity. This means the applicants who are most qualified are those who get accepted. This may seem to nullify to role of initiatives that aim to eradicate the disparities in educational opportunities, but this is not the case.
Instead of choosing the easy way and admitting more minority students, which only creates an illusion of equality, our university should become proactive in providing pre-enrollment opportunities to all students who need them. This way, students who were underprivileged but who are willing to work hard can reach the level of academic achievement required for enrollment. Finally, this will not only eliminate any discriminatory policies from diversity initiatives, but also provide an equal opportunity for all underprivileged students regardless of race.
Ammar Al Marzouqi ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in computer engineering.